Covid Interns, a platform set up by college friends Paddy Ryder and Rob Muldowney, seeks to match student volunteers with struggling SMEs.
It’s obvious that Covid-19 has impacted working life in many ways, from forcing us to work from home to pay cuts and job losses. But how have the past few months played out for students hoping to get some work experience?
Two business students from Trinity College Dublin were eager to find out and, ultimately, to help. Paddy Ryder and Rob Muldowney set up Covid Interns for two reasons: to help students find internships and to support Irish SMEs during the “difficult times” posed by the coronavirus.
To learn more about Covid Interns and how it works, I took some time to chat with Muldowney.
‘There is now an opportunity for firms to step back and take a holistic view of their business’
– ROB MULDOWNEY
Why did you set up Covid Interns?
As recent graduates, both Paddy and I were very concerned by all the commentary surrounding the economic fallout of Covid-19. The economy seemed sure to shrink at a time when we’d be going out into the ‘big bad world’ seeking employment. Internships had been pulled, travel plans foiled and part-time jobs were sparse. Naturally, we were worried.
However, we both agreed that the pandemic’s most hard-done-by people were those small-business owners who were facing drastic falls in income, closure and even bankruptcy, all while having families to feed and lifestyles to afford. We were gloomy about the Covid-19 situation and how it was disrupting our generation and that of our parents, business people and young entrepreneurs.
Covid Interns is motivated by the desire to help both sets of afflicted people by connecting their needs and capabilities. Students and graduates have seen their travel plans and internship prospects snatched away by the pandemic, but remain digitally skilled and tech savvy as a cohort. Small-business-owners now face a commercial landscape where business is done in an entirely different way, with a greater reliance on digital platforms and delivery models to drive sales.
Covid Interns is an attempt to pair SMEs struggling to adapt to the digitally dominated commercial world of the pandemic with students who can help that adaptation. The motivation is to help two groups of people by connecting them. We wanted to turn a negative into a positive.
Have many people reached out to you about getting involved?
Since our launch only a couple of weeks ago, 100-plus volunteers and businesses have signed up to Covid Interns. We have seen extremely skilled and experienced young people volunteer to help businesses out. Some have degrees in digital marketing, others have had training in finance and accounting and a number have a passion for graphic design and content creation.
The variety of volunteers has been as incredible as their quality. Young people from all across Ireland and the UK’s top universities have volunteered, including Trinity, University College Dublin, London School of Economics, Cambridge and Imperial, to name a few.
Small-business-owners have shown equally great interest and are offering fascinating experiences to prospective volunteers. Placements have ranged from social media management to web design to financial modelling. We have been blown away with the interest to tell the truth. We think that it’s a testament to the value-creating potential that a Covid Interns placement can generate for both parties involved.
How does it work? Do you match graduates with potential companies?
Pretty much. We receive CVs from our applicant volunteers and learn their desires, interests and availability. We receive contact from businesses and develop an understanding of what sort of assistance they’re looking for.
We then go back to our database of volunteers and very deliberately select a candidate that can deliver valuable help to the partnered business based on their stated needs.
We send the candidate’s CV over to the business owner and if they like the volunteer they can reach out and finalise the terms of the volunteer placement. Most placements involve a number of hours a week in total for project-oriented work, however some more intensive roles have been agreed. The business owner and volunteer then take it from there.
Why would you recommend it for businesses?
Covid Interns offers businesses an opportunity to take on a new set of hands and get some assistance, fresh ideas and a sounding board for sole operators. Although Covid-19 has led to huge disruption and businesses are facing particularly tough times, every storm has a silver lining. In this instance, it is the opportunity for businesses to step back and reassess everything.
Firms can identify the areas of their strategic planning that have been working and, more importantly, what has not been working and needs change. There is now an opportunity for firms to step back and take a holistic view of their business and begin to tackle the non-core elements of their business plan that do not necessarily demand daily thought.
Many of our clients so far have attested that they have tasks they have left on the back burners and are put off time and time again, such as investing time and thought into their social media accounts to drive sales. A Covid intern can come in and assist with such matters.
Furthermore, initial feedback has been very positive with positive feedback outweighing concerns and much of our new business sign-ups now coming from referrals from entrepreneurs already signed up to the programme.
To summarise, our interns are skilled, enthusiastic and free. There is little – if anything – to lose, and a whole lot to potentially gain.
What advice would you give to someone wondering if they should engage with Covid Interns?
Everyone can use a little help on some facet of their business; business owners rarely excel at all business areas. Whether it is guidance around content creation, financials or business planning, a Covid intern can add value. Our Covid interns’ success to date has attested to this and been noted by businesses who have relayed their thanks and appreciation for the help.
For instance, one student with an aptitude for accounting, prior internship experience with ‘Big Four’ accounting firms and a trainee contract imminent in September, was partnered with a small rural business that were doing the books by hand, often making errors and omitting various inflows and outflows. Our volunteer’s skills will help this business solve this problem, while the volunteer can develop his own skills and gain experience at the same time.
Another partnership consisted of a student with prior digital marketing internship experience taking over a small business’s social media accounts, growing followers, posting engaging content and writing blog posts all under the supervision of the business owner herself.
It’s free and potentially very helpful, and we are keen to get as many businesses and volunteers sorted as possible.