Engage with Education: Internships Move Online

5 October 2020

Do you find that whenever there is a work experience intern in your office, they always seem to be related to one of your directors or one of your clients? Or perhaps they are just about to start a role at Goldman Sachs?

We used to. We didn’t have young people coming to us who did not already have some pre-existing connection or advantage. We realised that we needed to do better and so we approached schools with students who don’t have the advantages that most of our interns then had. We offered a paid work experience internship with us learning about life in a buzzing office at one of the UK’s largest investors in the resource efficiency and renewable energy market.

When COVID-19 struck, as working in offices moved online, many internships and work placements were cancelled or postponed, some indefinitely. We decided to ensure that our work placements would continue, albeit virtually. We also knew that tough times meant we needed to try harder and so we increased our internship programme from two to six (three boys and three girls) and we took the opportunity to expand our reach outside of London to parts of the country where internships don’t grow on trees.

We were therefore delighted when Hannah Kennedy, Head of Sixth Form at St Saviour’s and St Olave's School, introduced to us a sixth-former to join our Virtual Insight Work Experience week in August.

Greencoat Capital looks after around £5bn of other people’s money (usually large pension funds and international fund managers) by investing it in renewable energy infrastructure such as wind farms and solar farms. We employ a diverse group of around 60 people and are now one of the largest owners of these types of assets in the UK. We have engineers, accountants, investment managers, compliance and risk professionals and team assistants who have all once upon a time had their first day in an office.

Given that we were all working from home some aspects of the internship had to change. We usually show our interns certain things to help them feel part of the action: how to use the coffee machine (not this year), the printer (not this year); we buy them lunch (not this year), and show them a bit about office life with all its rituals and banter. We thought it was important to enable them to find those things that you learn only by doing them. Well, doing this in lockdown was going to be a challenge.

However, our interns had just spent the summer term connecting virtually with their schools and were well practised. Over a busy week of work, our St Saviour's and St Olave's intern and her five fellow interns were each able to spend 45 minute “Zooms” with 20 of our people finding out what they did, how they came to be in their roles, asking questions and finding out more about the industry and working life; even some banter.

We also approached some very kind clients and people we thought would inspire our interns and we asked them to give up 45 minutes of their lives to talk about what they did every day, their careers and backgrounds. Mix in one-on-one interview practice, CV skills sessions, LinkedIn training and even takeaway pizza delivered to our intern’s doors for virtual team lunches and the experience of a real office began to build. It was intense but also good fun – all 40 hours! Our intrepid interns also spent part of the week working on a project (“The Hydrogen Economy” or “How Smart Will Future Cities Be?” or “Does Biomass Have A Role to Play in CO2 Sequestration?). At the end of the week they presented with great style and confidence to a group of us grizzled investment professionals. They were great.

Our clients who spoke loved it. People across Greencoat were happy to give up 45 minutes and all of them remembered what it was like right at the beginning of their careers or even how difficult it was to choose a career. They also enjoyed being able to lead and develop themselves by working with our interns. Universally, the feedback has been that our Greencoat team really enjoyed the insight and refreshing attitude that young sixth-formers brought to our locked down lives. We are going to do it again next year (we have a queue of volunteers) and we will stay in touch – we hope – with our magnificent six virtual work experience interns. One day we may even get to meet them in the flesh…

Richard Nourse, Court Assistant

The insight into ESG investing was particularly valuable because I was made more aware of how financial wealth is not of sole importance, rather good economic welfare is. The environmental objective at Greencoat was a great opportunity for me to raise my awareness on the climate crisis and the current efforts around it, and similarly my research project on hydrogen as alternative fuels was a great way for me to practise some vital skills. The internship also enabled me to gain exposure to a working environment in a period of lockdown which I found especially helpful.

We are really pleased that through our connection with Merchant Taylors’, one of our talented sixth-formers was able to get real work experience and develop her life skills – even in lockdown. Children have missed so much this year and high-quality engagement is really important for their development as young adults. Internships are a key way for our students to grow and prepare for the challenges that life after school will bring. In particular, they give them great material for their university application forms and tangible experiences and content for their first job interviews.

Merchant Taylors’ has deep and longstanding connections with schools who would love to be able to place their sixth-form students in real work experience for a day, a week or a month. Physical or virtual. If you or your firm could facilitate this for one or more students, please get in touch here.

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