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The virtual intern – is this a new option to support your business?

A laptop with the OU in Ireland logo and a cup of coffee on a desk

Businesses across Northern Ireland have already begun to change and adapt to the challenges of these Covid-19 times by adopting new approaches and methods to aid business continuity. One area which is now very different is the recruitment of new staff. How do you bring in new staff when your business is not back ‘in the office’?

Local company Inspire Loyalty decided to think outside of the box before lockdown even began when recruiting its latest employee. The Belfast based innovative loyalty programme and services company wanted to expand its workforce in the areas of marketing, creative design and administration. Rather than outsourcing its marketing work, Inspire Loyalty decided to embark on hiring a virtual intern. The company had traditionally hired work-based student interns but decided to shift from the norm and explore virtual internships. This started a new journey with The Open University in Belfast to provide an intern who could work virtually with the company. 

The Open University has built a dynamic virtual internship programme through its successful experience of working with students who study online and at a distance from the university. This means that OU students, who already work independently and remotely in their studies, can bring that discipline to the workplace and can continue their studies whilst working for the company.

Employability Manager for The Open University in Northern Ireland, Nicola Joyce, said “Virtual internships benefit both the student looking to gain experience and the employer looking to take advantage of the wealth of unique skills that OU students have. OU students are able to start at any time of the year to work alongside a company’s own plans, workload, or project deadlines.”


Valeria Geymonat, Inspire Loyalty's OU Virtual Intern Steve Risk, Founder and Director of Inspire Loyalty

Valeria Geymonat, Inspire Loyalty's OU Virtual Intern, and Steve Risk, Founder and Director of Inspire Loyalty 


Steve Risk, Founder and Director of Inspire Loyalty, said “Virtual internships provide flexibility for the work to be carried out without distracting from studies. By advocating a remote workplace environment there’s an implied trust by the company and intern. We’ve found results driven on this basis far outweigh a stationary workplace and can drive greater ownership and responsibility by the intern.”

Valeria Geymonat was Inspire Loyalty’s Open University virtual intern. She explained why she wanted to take part in a virtual internship, “I was approaching the end of my OU studies and in May last year I started to look into internships to gain some work experience. I am studying for a degree in IT and Business and the internship offered by Inspire Loyalty combined both subjects. It was the perfect opportunity to test my knowledge and learn new skills.” 

“I had been working as a library assistant for 10 years, so this was a totally different experience and context. I learned new skills and I was able to put to use the knowledge I gained from my OU studies. I like the flexibility and being able to organise my own schedule. Remote working requires a good amount of self-discipline and organisation, but these are qualities that I learned during my OU studies, so it wasn't too hard to apply them to my internship too.”

The virtual intership doesn't just offer employees the opportunity to thrive but it allows employers acess to new perspectives. Steve Risk told us, “The Open University has been an integral part of adding value to the company through input in the fields of marketing, creative design and administration. Taking external knowledge from the intern and applying it to our business, while offering an insight into how our company operates has been of mutual benefit.”

Ultimately, virtual internships offer students the chance to enhance thier career development prospects in a way that traditional routes can't and they can open up a miriad of opportunitues. Valeria said “As a result of my internship I was offered a permanent position which I was very happy to accept. It has been a very successful experience for me.”


For more information on how you can get involved with Virtual Internships, along with eligibility for employer funding, email:

For media enquiries:

Contact Christine Murphy

Communications Officer
Tel +44 (0) 28 9053 6219