School’s out for summer!  But like most everything in today’s COVID-19 impacted world, summer will be different this year for students expecting to get valuable work experience by interning. Facing economic downturns and work from home mandates, 16% of employers across the business spectrum have reported revoking internship offers, according to The National Association of Colleges and Employers. Further, 40% are shortening the internship by delaying the start date and almost 20% are reducing the number of interns they’re going to bring on board in the summer.

Is this an opportunity for the communications industry? It’s no secret that we need to do a better job attracting diverse talent. According to the Department of Labor Statistics, the US PR industry is 89.8 percent white, 8 percent African American, 1.4 percent Latino/a, and .4 percent Asian American.  For years, we’ve been exploring how to interest top minority talent, whose initial career path choices often favor other industries such as engineering, law and science, in communications careers.

Today, the importance of communications is being seen in a new light. Our function has been especially crucial during this crisis in helping our companies live their social purpose and keeping employees, customers, and other stakeholders informed and engaged. 

Now might be the time to triple efforts to reach diverse students, especially those who weren’t thinking about communications as a career option, with information about our profession and offer internship opportunities for this summer and fall. Granted, in light of the pandemic these opportunities are likely to be virtual - at least to start.  But what’s the problem with that?  We are all learning to motivate and collaborate with our teams remotely. The Ivy Research Council (IRC), an organization of student government leaders, student organization leaders, and students at large from Ivy League colleges and universities, recently surveyed hundreds of students on their views of company engagement in light of Coronavirus, and 79% of students would prefer virtual engagement to no engagement.

It’s not too late. Reach out to the college recruitment experts at your company to develop an immediate game plan and targeted outreach. IRC is another resource as is INROADS, the non-profit whose mission is to fix the lack of ethnic diversity in corporate America. They serve more than 2,000 interns annually at over 200 sponsoring corporations. And Handshake, the online service connecting employers and students, has an active internship component. 

Fellow Page member, Kim Hunter, Chairman & CEO of The LAGRANT Foundation (TLF), a not-for-profit whose mission is to increase the number of ethnic minorities in the fields of advertising, marketing and public relations, says, “Fortune 500 and agencies that keep their internship programs going in spite of all that is happening are really getting the upper hand in forming a pipeline for diverse talent compared to those who have put a pause on their internship programs. This will enable these companies to have a pool of diverse talent to choose from once hiring starts up again. It really is important to invest in young, diverse talent in this day and age as it will pay off in the future."

Today’s challenges can lead to tomorrow’s opportunities. Our industry leaders can truly demonstrate a commitment to D&I by courting traditional and non-traditional diverse candidates and creating innovative alternative experiences for students and young professionals. Perhaps we’ll look back at this difficult time as when we started to make a real difference diversifying our industry.