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The unemployment rate for tech jobs in the United States hit a record low of 1.3% in mid-2019. Nearly a year later, the idea of tech jobs as “recession-proof” is being put to the test as the COVID-19 pandemic puts financial and operational pressure on the business world.

We’re starting to see that the tech internship programs that play such an important role in filling recruitment funnels are being hit especially hard. We’ve seen companies like StubHub cancel their programs while others such as Adobe are freezing all hiring processes.

As an open letter from AnitaB.org puts it, the “Mass cancelations of internship programs could have an irreversible, long-lasting impact on the science and technology talent pool causing a loss of diversity and a deficit in talent availability that could affect the science and technology sector for years to come.”

But there’s another consequence for your company beyond a more limited talent pool—long-term damage to your employer brand.

How Students and New Graduates Are Reacting to Internship Cancelations

The coronavirus has led to record-setting volumes of unemployment claims and a deep feeling that we’re heading toward a new version of the Great Recession that hit in 2008. While personal health is the most important focus right now, students and new graduates are understandably worried about starting their careers in such uncertain times.

As more and more internship programs are canceled, media outlets are collecting reactions from the students and graduates impacted most.

A TechCrunch article quotes one student to show just how distressing this whole situation can be. She says, “When I first read the cancelation email, I didn’t believe it. I refreshed my inbox; I rubbed my eyes as if I were waking up from a dream. It was clear that COVID-19 was becoming a mounting concern, but it never occurred to me that my internship was in jeopardy.”

In a New York Times article, graduates are quoted as saying things like, “Everyone has a different job or career and all of it’s upended. I had a loose idea of what I was doing in a few months. And now I’m just looking into the void.” And worse yet, economist Lisa Kahn says that “If they’re graduating into a large recession, they’re going to suffer some pretty severe short-term consequences. And that’s probably going to stay with them for almost the next decade.”

The current economic situation stands to create an entire class of jaded job seekers. This may have an especially adverse effect on companies that are currently sending out internship cancelation emails.

Even though canceling your internship program may largely be a health precaution, the reputational damage that comes with the COVID-19 media coverage can have a long-term impact on your employer brand. And ultimately, that could hurt your ability to attract top talent in the long run.

Before jumping straight to canceling your internship programs, consider what you can do to transition to a remote strategy. It may not be the norm for your organization, but it can safeguard your employer brand and help you sustain your talent pool beyond the pandemic.

 The Positive Impact of Maintaining Internship Programs

There are essentially two paths you can take with your 2020 internship program. You can cancel it altogether or you can transform it into a remote program. Reports say that companies are canceling their programs to cut costs amidst COVID-19 uncertainty. And while that may make sense for a company financially, there are companies taking a polar opposite stance.

Most recently, Cloudflare, a cybersecurity company, has decided to double down on its internship program. Rather than streamlining the operation and cutting down on hiring, TechCrunch reports that Cloudflare is going to hire twice as many interns. Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince explained by saying:

“Every company is in a different position. And if this had been a banking crisis, or this had been an agricultural crisis, there wouldn’t be that much that Cloudflare could do. But because this has been a crisis that’s forced us all to rely more on the internet, that is our business at Cloudflare.”

This is an important distinction to make in comparison to the Great Recession of 2008. Whereas that was primarily an economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis with a drastic impact on the global economy. Businesses that can maintain operations remotely can still thrive. 

The decision that Cloudflare and other tech companies are making to keep their internship programs going results in goodwill for their employer brands. The amount of media attention Cloudflare has gotten for its decision is undoubtedly having a positive impact on its recruitment funnel. It’s the kind of decision that sets a company up for success even after the pandemic has passed.

If you’re making the decision to take your internship program remote, the first step will be to effectively source and evaluate talent without meeting people in person. Remote hiring may seem like a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be.

To learn more about hiring for your newly-remote internship program, check out our Guide to Remote-First Hiring and see how you can make evidence-based candidate decisions.

Roy Solomon is Chief Revenue Officer at Codility, and an expert in the future of work. Roy leads Codility’s customer-facing teams and advises TA and Engineering leaders from around the world build their technical hiring and retention plans.

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