Business Leader spoke with education entrepreneur Edward Holroyd Pearce, co-founder of the UK’s first virtual internship company, Virtual Internship Partners.
Billed as “internships for the digital era”, remote skills are becoming increasingly important to businesses, and employees across every sector are working remotely more often, and are happier, less stressed, and more productive as a result.
Around 80,000 internships are undertaken each year in the UK and Holroyd Pearce says going virtual will increase this number and make them more accessible to everyone.
It is his second company – his first, CRCC Asia, founded in 2006, is the world’s biggest provider of work experience placements in China, with a HQ in London and offices in Asia.
Can you give me an overview of Virtual Internship Partners?
Virtual Internships was spun out of a company called CRCC Asia, which arranges internship placements for European and American students in cities in Asia.
We recognised that there was a whole desirable skill set that candidates can learn through a remote or virtual internship, and that this also reduces traditional barriers to internships, such as logistics, cost, family or study commitments, for a number of candidates.
What are the benefits of a virtual internship – both to the intern and business?
The intern can gain desirable skills, both industry specific and transferable skills relating to the ability to work remotely. They can do this at a low cost and without having to relocate, which makes it compatible with family commitments, studies, or even mobility issues.
For businesses, a virtual internship allows students to gain relevant experience in the industry and so build their recruitment pipeline.
The company has access to talent from all over the world – and they can make a difference to students that would otherwise not be able to do an internship – and they don’t have to allocate a desk space or other resources which they would for an in-person intern.
What are the challenges that Virtual Internship Partners faces?
We need to educate students and companies about the benefits. We need to find creative ways of covering the costs – currently a program costs £695 or $1,000 – and is typically covered by the student. In the future, we would like more of the costs to be covered by universities, governments, or businesses, but that’s always going to be a tough process.
What kind of companies are you working with?
Typically, SMEs and particularly those in tech or advanced industries are very open to the idea, understand the benefits, and can make a decision quickly. We do work with larger companies who may take longer to approve the program, and even industries that one might not consider suitable have found some interesting uses for a virtual intern.
For example, we had a pharmacology student who is now doing a remote research project for a big pharma company and is learning lots, we thought it would be a challenge to find companies in industries like pharma or engineering which felt more hands-on.
What are businesses’ attitudes towards virtual internships?
Companies have been very open to the idea. We are lucky to have CRCC Asia as a parent company, which has several thousand companies which host in-person interns, so we trialled the idea of a virtual intern with some of these companies and got great results.
We are very hands-on in helping companies develop projects suitable for a virtual intern, and they see the value in the on-going coaching we provide to upskill candidates. We’re always looking for more companies interested in hosting an intern though.
What will the world of work look like in the future?
We fully believe more and more people will be given options to work remotely. Technological improvements will play a part in this becoming more commonplace, but this doesn’t mean computers taking jobs. It could mean better video conferencing which allows you to experience the full range of emotions and empathy that you would if you were in the same meeting room.
People who are better at getting things done remotely are likely to have more options and either be rewarded financially, or enjoy a better quality of life.
What are your personal business goals for the future?
I feel passionate about what we do – both CRCC Asia and Virtual Internships – and I am excited to grow the businesses to impact more people around the world. There are always things we can learn from and parts of our service we can improve, and I’m sure that will always be the case.
We’d like to see more and more students receive funding for their programs so they are not out-of-pocket when wanting to gain this type of experience.
We are always on the lookout for new businesses that would fit into our portfolio and benefit from sharing our resources.
On a higher level, if everything works out for a partial exit in the next five to 10 years, it would be great to send the twins to a good school, and maybe get a place outside London, but I can’t picture exiting the businesses completely, it’s too exciting.
What are Virtual Internship Partners plans for the future?
We will be raising a second round of funding towards the end of 2018, and using that primarily for technology to help our scaling. That will allow us to service more students, and also to drive the price down for certain groups of students.