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almost 2 years ago by Julia Grant, Change 100 Team

​Adapting to the new normal with Change 100

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Covid-19 meant that we had to change the way we delivered our internship programme Change 100 almost overnight.

It was challenging. By the end of May, with employers having to make some very difficult decisions about their futures, we found that many of our internships could not go ahead.

This has meant that around two thirds of our successful cohort, all of whom were invited onto the programme before the true effect of the pandemic hit, could not be matched with a role this summer.

Still, we knew we could keep going. We had to find the best possible version of the scheme. And I have to say, I’m proud of what we managed to do – the changes we put in place are showing real benefits already for interns and employers alike.

 "The team’s willingness to step back and remodel Change 100 was brilliant. They were focussed on finding the best outcomes for our interns – who would be most negatively impacted by lost roles. Organisations want – and need –the fresh talent and skills that our cohort has. We took the opportunity to find working solutions that still offered positive opportunities for the candidates, but were flexible enough to assist our employers.”

Victoria Passant, Programme Manager, Change 100

Adapting to the ‘new normal’

Quickly, we learned that a shift to remote delivery was key. We partner with employers all over the UK, so we’ve always done some things long-distance,
like our check-ins during placements. But now we needed to deliver the entire programme according to the ‘new normal’, and make digital the default.

A fully remote programme was also more flexible, freeing us up to help interns. We’ve found that instead of ‘digital-first’ making employers less engaged, the opposite was true. They were were more willing to commit to a webinar rather than in-person training. Many have moved closer to being ‘digital native’ during lockdown, too.

Most organisations going ahead this year have simply committed to onboarding and supporting their interns remotely. We still have over 40 internships. Roles range across corporate, public and third sector employers including Greenpeace, National Lottery Community Fund and The National Gallery.

Other ways we’ve adapted have been mirrored by our partners. We extended the duration of the internship programme for this year, and employers got behind the idea. Some continued roughly as planned from June, but many pushed start-dates back to allow themselves time to adjust to new ways of working. With both current students and graduates in our cohort, we’ve been able to reactively match roles starting as late as September. This has also shown us the value of doing so in years to come, to expand potential opportunities.

Interns have already fed back that managers are putting their adjustments into place with ease, and building regular support and catch-ups in with them, as suggested. This is allowing them to thrive in work and get on with their projects independently.

“Initially we did wonder if we could go ahead with the internship as it was really important to us that Sam had a good experience and we were concerned that working remotely might affect this for him. However, I didn’t want to let Sam down as I’d been to one of the assessment centres and seen how much the Change 100 candidates put into it so I re-thought what Sam could do and made the role more project based which would better suit remote working - Sam ended up doing a combination of day to day admin tasks and project work which meant we were able to keep him busy. We compiled a manual explaining all of our processes which Sam could refer to and we always went through any work we gave him thoroughly and checked he understood it before leaving him to get on with it.

It was really important to us that Sam felt comfortable in his role so he spent his first day with the HR team in the office to go through induction, meet his mentor, Jeanette Barrowcliffe and meet a few other of the support services people so he could start to build relationships. After that I spent Wednesdays in the office with him and the rest was done remotely.  I called him every morning to check that he knew what he was doing that day and every Friday afternoon we had a Teams call to
reflect on the week and prepare for the week ahead. 

During his first couple of weeks Sam had calls with all the Support Services managers to get an understanding of what the head office departments do and Derek our CEO had an hour long call with him on day two to welcome him to Meridian.

I think the key to helping Sam settle in and find his feet was that initial day in the office, then daily communication from that point forward and regular mentoring sessions. Sam knew that he could contact the HR team or Jeanette at any time as he had our personal numbers so he never felt isolated or left to his own devices.”

Sarah Ward, Head of HR, Meridian

Helping bright graduates after covid-19

We’ve had to find new ways to keep supporting talented students and graduates. Employers know this, and have been on board from the start.

Fourteen different organisations are currently offering remote mentoring. Usually interns would only be matched with a mentor in their workplace, but we developed an offer this year for those high-scoring applicants without a role. Fifty-two are now matched with these remote mentors.

We also innovated with our 6-month Professional Development Programme. These monthly sessions for successful candidates assist them to develop key professional skills and techniques. Some of our withdrawn partners have devised webinar content for it, with our input.  

We run remote sessions in two hour blocks, across three consecutive days. This is more accessible; there’s less information to digest, and other ways to engage
without the potential pressure of being there in-person. Candidates can contribute whenever and however comfortable. Some can choose to simply observe and process
at their own preferred pace. These changes have meant attendance numbers so far are actually up on previous years.

What’s next?

We were determined to do Change 100 justice despite the difficult times. Going ahead, we already anticipate keeping many of these developments in place. With a team determined to provide the best outcomes, this unexpected challenge has led to better ways of working. We’re sure this experience chimes with those of many employers.

We’re planning student outreach and assessment for next summer. We’re also excited to explore the prospect of further remote placements with 2021 employers. This could greatly open-up opportunities for brilliant candidates whose options for travel or workplaces may be limited simply by their conditions. And we’re pleased that many partners who had to withdraw are hoping to come onboard instead next year. We anticipate a strong year with great variety in internships.

We’re so grateful to our 2020 partners and candidates for their participation, flexibility and resilience. It’s also a testament to our amazing team.