Internships, in-person career fairs are returning for ISU students

Mike Gaul has seen a lot working in career services for 24 years, but his description of the current climate puts things in perspective quickly.

"It is the craziest, wonkiest labor market I know I will ever see in the rest of my lifetime," said Gaul, associate director of career services in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). "To go from nearly 15% unemployment at the end of April 2020, to now every store is seemingly looking for labor, is crazy."

The roller coaster means plenty of opportunity for internships and jobs for Iowa State students.

"We're always working with students to find ways for them to get involved and get experience," said Taren Reker, associate director of career services in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "There are so many good opportunities out there right now that we are telling them to go for it."


One of the areas most restricted for students during the pandemic was internships and co-ops.

The number of co-op and internship opportunities posted on CyHire -- an online jobs platform for students and alumni -- went from 4,229 in 2018-19 to 3,819 in 2019-20 as the pandemic began to make its impact. The number sat at 3,210 in 2020-21 when all of ISU's career fairs were held virtually. Full-time job postings also dipped from 6,547 in 2018-19 to 4,996 in 2019-20.

Businesses were pulling internships for a variety of reasons, from health and safety to cost savings. Perhaps nowhere was the impact felt more than the College of Engineering, where an internship or co-op is not required to graduate, but highly recommended.

"There were a lot of students who were disappointed by their internships or co-ops being canceled in 2020," said Kellie Mullaney, Engineering career services interim director. "I think the biggest impact was on students whose last chance for an internship was summer 2020, so they ended up graduating without professional experience."

Fortunately, colleges are seeing a rebound.

"Obviously, we are not out of it, but it seems to be on the upswing," Reker said.

Gaul sees an impressive stream of internships coming through this year and has had more companies than ever contact him looking for part-time student help. Mullaney said there is a 10% increase in engineering internships and co-ops posted in CyHire compared to 2020, inching closer to 2019 levels.

The pandemic opened up different kinds of internships to fill needs created by new challenges, many coming with increased flexibility.

"A couple of years ago, a remote internship was not very common, and if it was, you were trying to determine if it was a quality opportunity," Reker said. "Now, there are a lot of organizations doing a good job with hybrid or work-from-home opportunities."

Mullaney said engineering students also have taken advantage of virtual options that provide a quality experience.

"These positions go through an additional vetting process when students register them so that we can ensure they receive appropriate support, supervision and education," she said.

Career fairs

Career fairs are returning with in-person and virtual options this year. Gaul said many of the businesses he communicates with are excited to get back in the same room with students, but not every employer is back to pre-pandemic operation.

"We still are seeing companies hesitant to come back in person, including some of the bigger companies for CALS because travel restrictions are in place," he said.

CALS' in-person career day Oct. 12 already has 173 companies committed  -- including 20 new participants. The Business, Industry and Technology events had nearly 200 commitments, and the People to People events had nearly 150.  A pair of Engineering in-person events and one online combined for nearly 550.

It is a solid rebound after just 872 employers participated in one or more career fairs in 2020-21, down from 1,231 two years ago.

One trend both Gaul and Reker have noticed is employers attending both in-person and virtual events because of the significant need to fill positions.

"They are taking any opportunity they can get," Gaul said.

A virtual option -- going from novelty to norm -- brings different employers from out of state to events they did not previously attend, Reker said.

"It really is two completely different ways of interacting, in-person and online," she said. "Regardless, employers still are looking for students who are well prepared, have done their research and have some ideas of what they want."