Could hiring an intern bring back that office buzz?
By Hannah Duncan -
Interns, graduates, and apprentices have had a rough year. With roles few and far between, around half felt the pandemic dampened their career prospects.
One person who faced the storm head on is now Underwriter at Funding 365, Katie Spitz, who revealed, “The pandemic had a huge impact on the job opportunities for those of us who graduated in 2020… The disadvantages of video interviewing and starting jobs from home largely remains for my peers, and this is compounded by the fact that there are now double the number of graduates chasing the opportunities”.
Ouch. And for few who made it, they didn’t exactly get the ‘first day at work’ butterflies they’d dreamed of. Deprived of those rite-of-passage milestones like beeping an access card into an office building or those first giddy after-work drinks, they’ve missed out on a lot.
Bringing different people together enhances creativity
But it wasn’t just the ambitious intern who lost out. Businesses were sapped of the creative office buzz too. Brainstorm sessions and value-adding ideas slumped.
One study found that despite longer days and more virtual meetings, productivity declined by 2% -3% for most organisations.
“In our view, virtually you can be communicative, you can be productive, but you’re never as innovative”, explains CEO of CrowdProperty, Michael Bristow.
“It’s one of the reasons we opened up our office back pretty quickly, because it is, it is so fundamentally important that, at whatever level you’re at, you learn from the people above you”.
As bright-eyed and bushy-tailed outsiders, interns offer the rare gift of objectivity in workspaces. They’re useful to have around.
This refreshing approach can keep the company from going stale, as Marketing Director of Funding 365, Laura Kendall finds.
“We hugely value the enthusiasm and fresh perspectives that our graduates bring to Funding 365”, she explains. “With their intelligence, energy and out-of-the-box thinking they represent our brand perfectly”.
It’s this infectious energy that Founder and CEO of Digital Grads Lucy Smith, believes is one of their most valuable assets.
For meetings which are feeling a little lacklustre, Smith suggests bringing in a graduate could kick-start some much-needed enthusiasm, “Have a really good think about the team dynamics – have you got enough energy?”, she questions. “Taking on young people can really give your team a boost!”
Including interns at all levels reinforces best practices
As well as providing that fresh burst of energy in an otherwise drab meeting, interns can be the glue that strengthens processes too.
“You have to onboard and train [interns] properly. You have to do all those things correctly”, emphasises Smith. Their training comes from everyone, as they watch over shoulders and ask questions.
And those constant micro-reminders help to keep best practices at the forefront everyone.
“[When] graduates come in, they’re a completely blank slate”, Avamore Capital’s Head of Credit Analysis, Henry Manley-Cooper explains. “We train them on the steps, and it creates a consistent customer journey for everyone”.
This sponge-like ability to learn, without needing to unlearn rules from previous jobs also makes it onto Smith’s top reasons to hire an intern, graduate, or apprentice. “They don’t have bad habits”, she emphasizes. “And while they may need more training you can teach them how the company works”.
So, if you’re looking to tighten up some best practices that ran astray over lockdown, hiring an intern could be a surprisingly strategic solution.
… While strengthening corporate culture
But we’re not done there, because if you want to really ramp up that feel-good office vibe, it’s all about the culture.
Manley-Cooper believes that one way of nurturing this is to encourage interns to work alongside all seniority levels. “Having a flat structure creates a more comfortable environment”, he explains.
“The senior team [at Avamore Capital] remain very approachable. That’s reflected in the graduate’s very first day here. They’ll be in meetings with senior managers. They’re never cut off and away from it all”.
Over at Funding 365, Kendall agrees that a flat structure brings out the best in everyone.
“Our graduates say that they value their approachable and supportive managers, on-the-job learning, empowerment to have (a certain level of) autonomy quickly, and our friendly, energetic team and environment”, she elaborates.
This, according to Avamore Capital’s Manley-Cooper comes back around in a loop, creating a stronger and more unified workforce.
“[Our interns] are incredibly plugged in. They’re very willing to help and support new people. I think that’s what creates the positive culture we have here”.
Investing in people early leads to long-term growth
As someone who started as an intern and worked upwards to CEO himself, Bristow knows first-hand how juniors can bolster a great corporate spirit.
“I really understand the importance of building your pipeline of people who can grow, develop and embed themselves in the culture of the business”
Building a pipeline of talent brings us to the next and perhaps most business-critical point. Interns, graduates, and apprentices are remarkably good for prosperity.
You wouldn’t usually connect a three month entry-level contract with long-term value. But if you thought that taking on an intern was just a “nice to have”, you could be missing a crucial trick.
All the experts found interns, graduates, and apprentices to be hugely beneficial for the prosperity of business.
“[Hiring interns] certainly shouldn’t be dismissed as a route to part of long-term strategic growth”, reveals Bristow. To his mind, the lenders who are not taking advantage of the young and smart pool of talent are missing out.
“[Smaller lenders] won’t necessarily see the benefit of investment in people at the start. They might not be thinking ‘they could be a brilliant part of our business in two years, three years, four years’ time’”, he explains.
Someone who can certainly attest to this is Manley-Cooper, “I was the very first graduate that the company hired”, he explains. “Now I’m the Head of Credit Analysis and everyone in my team has also been a graduate!”.
Internships, apprenticeships, and graduate schemes open the door for better diversity
When asked if apprenticeships could help improve diversity, Strategy Director for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, Beth Chaudhary pinged back, “Definitely.”
In recent months, there’s been a push within finance to use internships as a driver for social change. London-based fund managers have committed to hiring 100 Black interns a year, using the hashtag #100BlackInterns to raise awareness.
And across the experts, there was unanimous agreement that these roles can be the gateway to a more representative workforce.
“Around 50% of apprentices are female and 13% are black or minority ethnic, in both cases equivalent to population averages”, Chaudhary elaborates.
What’s more, companies – including lending firms – have additional financial incentives to hiring new entrants.
“Employers taking on new apprentices between 1 April 2021 and 30 September 2021 will now receive £3,000 per hire”, Chaudhary explains. So, we could – in theory – see levels of diversity accelerate faster than expected. Another reason to bring an apprentice onboard!
Want to get your office groove back? Open the door to some fresh faces
I’m no expert. But if I were concerned about a lacklustre return to work, I’d be talking to HR about internships double-quick! They help add that much-needed sparkle of energy and enthusiasm. Plus, as the actual experts have highlighted, they can boost creativity, best practices, culture, prosperity and more.
Before jumping ahead, Smith recommends a few key must-haves.
“[You’ll need] a clear plan of what will happen in the internship, so that the candidate is really clear about what they’re there for”, she begins.
“Know who is going to train them, where and how long for. Make sure that the duties of the role are suited for an intern, that the tasks don’t require any prior experience. You can’t assume, for example, that they already know about bridging loans”.
Finally, and probably most importantly, “All internships should be paid”, Smith stresses. “You’ll need a standard contract”.
There’s no quick fix to beating the back-to-office blues. But bringing some excited learners into the fold could inspire your teams to step-up and lead by example.
Better still, in the words of Smith, “Even if it doesn’t work out, you’ve helped somebody…It’s a good thing to do!”
Hannah Duncan is a freelance writer with a passion for finance, sustainable investing and fintech. She loves writing engaging content for industry magazines and investment services, as well as keeping a personal blog at www.hdinvestmentcontent.com