Internships: bolster your talent pipeline amid economic uncertainty

How employers can leverage internship programs to fill immediate needs and help build talent pipelines for the future.

Actors prepare for an audition.

High inflation and the ensuing economic downturn have affected virtually all aspects of hiring, as employers enact hiring freezes and lay off workers en masse. Internships, of course, are not immune to the effects either. While employers may be considering putting internship programs on hold this summer, experts say that could be a big mistake.

“While it may be tempting for employers to cut back on internship programs during a recession, doing so can have long-term consequences for the organization,” says Deepali Vyas, CEO of Fearless+. “By continuing to invest in talent development and maintaining a commitment to social responsibility, employers can position themselves for success both during and after difficult economic times.”

Learn how employers can leverage internship programs to fill immediate needs during a recession and help build their talent pipelines for the future.

Why Employers Should Continue Internship Programs

Rain or shine, there are several reasons why employers should continue to offer internship programs during a recession or times of economic uncertainty. For one, interns may be able to fill in gaps to help keep operations on track when there are hiring freezes or long transitionary periods.

“While interns should not be doing the same work as employees, with companies laying off workers en masse this can be an opportunity to reevaluate your company’s internship program and strategically reassign some of the work to interns,” says Dr. Kyle Elliott, MPA, CHES, founder and career coach of “This not only supports the company through these challenging economic times but also provides the intern with hands-on experience, in addition to bolstering their resume with relevant industry accomplishments when they’re on the job market.”

As the skills gap continues to widen, internship programs also offer a prime opportunity for employers to mentor future employees and build their talent pipeline for better days ahead. After all, circumstances may change between now and the fall, which may allow employers to consider hiring some of the great intern talent they’ve had a chance to vet with on-the-job experience.

“Employers are struggling nationwide to fill open positions and are finding a misalignment with the skill set they think they need and the skill set applicants have,” says Julie Lammers, senior vice president of advocacy and corporate social responsibility at American Student Assistance. “Work-based learning experiences like internships allow employers the opportunity to expose young people at an earlier age to the kinds of skills they will need to be successful and help train them for, or often receive, the certifications necessary to start contributing immediately to the workforce.”

Additional benefits an internship program may provide employers include:

  • Increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Building a positive brand image
  • Access to new ideas and perspectives
  • Creating mentorship opportunities for more senior employees
  • Fulfilling social responsibility

How to Hire and Manage Interns During a Recession

While employers may already be aware of the many benefits internship programs provide, implementing these programs may prove challenging in light of recessionary fears. Rather than scrapping these programs completely, employers should take the time to reevaluate and make adjustments where necessary.

“The biggest barrier to employer participation in an internship program is the inability to manage the program internally,” Lammers says. “When times are tight, these kinds of training programs are often seen as ‘nice to have’ rather than ‘need to have.’ Before cutting these programs, we would encourage employers to try to partner with a business intermediary like a workforce board or chamber of commerce, that may be able to lift some of the administrative burdens by managing them in a central location. The Boston Private Industry Council or Skills for Rhode Island’s Future are two great examples of these types of coordinating bodies for internships.”

Employers struggling to start up or manage their internship program this summer may also consider:

  • Pivoting to remote internships
  • Delaying the start or shortening the length of the internship program
  • Reducing the number of internships available

Knowing that some employers may choose to pause their internship programs, there may be a surplus of students looking for work this summer. Employers opting to move forward with their internship programs will want to make sure they are conveying the right message to attract top candidates to their programs. Take a look at employer branding materials, such as an employee value proposition, job descriptions, career pages, and even social media, to ensure candidates understand how an internship could benefit them, too.

“Students and recent graduates with impressive resumes often have their choice of internship programs and are typically being pursued by multiple companies,” Dr. Elliott says. “Beyond paying your interns, which is table stakes at this point, review the professional development and mentorship opportunities you’re providing them. Additionally, consider what career ladders are available to them post-internship, as students often gravitate toward those companies where they see long-term potential.”

How to Navigate Economic Uncertainty

From internships to the C-Suite, employers will likely have to reevaluate hiring and workforce management strategies over the next few months. Depending on your business, some strategies may be more feasible than others, but the key is having expert resources and analysis at your fingertips. To learn how to better navigate the months ahead, download our Recruitment Survival Guide.