In the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, fourth-year computer engineering major Jacqueline Burd had secured two summer internships in Santa Barbara, planning to work in computer hardware at a firmware company and a Bluetooth startup.
But by finals week of spring quarter, the job landscape was dramatically different and both companies walked back their offers to Burd.
As the coronavirus pandemic shifted classes at UC Santa Barbara to an online format, businesses that offered internships shifted online too, depriving students of professional opportunities — from the perks of an in-office experience to employment altogether.
“They just completely removed their hardware internship program because it would be too difficult to do remote,” Burd said of one employer. The other froze hiring altogether, because they’re a smaller company.
Positions like Burd’s — which require a physical presence for special equipment and in-person mentoring from professionals — could not easily be translated to an online format.
“I take a particular interest in doing circuit boards and doing a lot of verification testing… and you need to work with a hardware lab and the tools that they have,” she said.
Isabella Powell, a third-year communication major, planned to spend her spring quarter and summer working as a barista at the UCen Starbucks, another job that’s since disappeared.
“The week after [winter quarter] finals, I got an email saying the UCen was going to cut hours. And then the next week after that, they just closed the UCen completely,” she said.
Powell then tried reaching out to her managers, who she said were unresponsive to her emails. With job prospects slim, Powell doesn’t think she will be able to pay off some of her student loan debt and rent in Isla Vista as she had originally planned.
“A job was definitely going to offset some of those costs,” she explained. Although she’s searched for opportunities since losing her job at Starbucks, Powell said her “search right now is very stalled” due to the pandemic shortening hours for businesses.
Since being laid off from Starbucks, Powell redirected her search to an internship in her field, which she said was also unsuccessful.
“[One company] had applications open, and it was toward something that I wanted to do for my career,” she said. “And they’re not even responding to my emails.”
The sudden loss of employment is an added pressure for UCSB students already struggling from other impacts from the coronavirus pandemic. Amid the financial impacts, the lost opportunity for jobs or internships adds an anxiety surrounding a lack of professional experience as they enter their senior year, said Burd and Powell.
Both students emphasized how crucial gaining experience felt in their last summer before college graduation. Burd said she felt “inadequate” compared to her friends whose internships didn’t fall through. Powell worried about graduating with nothing “under her belt.”
“So many of the people I know — the different jobs they first go into out of college is the one that they interned for,” Burd said.
While rising fourth-year students struggle with the possible ramifications of a summer without an internship or job, recent UCSB graduates are thrust directly into the ravaged job market.
After graduating with a degree in economics, Patrick Connor ‘20 decided to move back to his home state of New Jersey in June, citing his unsuccessful internship search in Santa Barbara as the main factor. According to Connor, when he did find one of the “sparse” opportunities listed on job sites like Handshake and LinkedIn, they weren’t always updated.
“I would apply, and the application would look normal, like it was just posted a few weeks ago,” he said. “And then I would get an email, maybe like a day or two after I applied, [saying] ‘Sorry, but this position is no longer open due to the ongoing pandemic,’ or something like that.”
Burd experienced the same problem.
“I feel like even if there’s stuff out there online, where they’re like ‘looking for interns,’ a lot of it is not updated yet,” she said.
Amanda Asquith-Caya, UCSB’s career services internship and experience manager, said a number of students have reported rescinded internship offers and struggles to find employment. While she believes opportunities still exist, “there aren’t necessarily as many as a typical summer,” she said.
For students currently in internships, their companies might have moved interns to remote-only work, according to Asquith-Caya, who says the loss of the physical workplace also means fewer opportunities to experience the “work culture” or network with colleagues.
“The idea of an internship is for it to be a hands-on learning experience for students in a particular field or industry,” she said.
However, Asquith-Caya said remote internships can help students be “agile and resilient” and produce qualities that are attractive for future employers. She added that as offices across the country now offer remote work, they can potentially create more opportunities in the future for students without needing to be physically at the office.
But for now, with no formal employment and a dwindling job market, some UCSB students are faced with an uncertain summer.
For Burd, the next step is developing technical skills or studying for graduate school exams. Despite the pandemic, she said that “a lot of these companies really want to see you have active summers, where you’re doing stuff that they could potentially use.”
Conner, back in New Jersey for the time being, plans to diversify the types of positions and cities in which he’s applying, something he said is an upside of shutdown workplaces.
He said he feels relieved, however, that he’s not the only one experiencing job uncertainty. Still, Conner is doubtful he’ll return to Santa Barbara any time soon.
“The least essential service is probably an intern right now.”