The coronavirus pandemic has meant that students, especially those in their final year, have missed out on a lot of things: grad balls, graduation ceremonies and last nights out with friends. As a student who graduated this year, I can say with some level of certainty that most final year students have got over missing out on these things as the months have dragged by. However, the coronavirus has an even worse sting in its tale than missing out on social events – a job market in chaos.
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On the surface the numbers don’t look bad with unemployment staying at 3.9% throughout the pandemic according to ONS figures. However, this doesn’t tell the full story. From April to June of this year, GDP fell by over 20% which is the biggest drop in a three month period ever recorded in the UK. This is undoubtedly going to have an effect on the graduate job market and reportedly already has. According to a Times survey, over 60% of graduates looking for a job have had their applications withdrawn or put on hold.
As a graduate with friends who have graduated alongside me, I can see the effect that the coronavirus has had on their job prospects. Matt, 22, has told me of his struggles as he tries to find his first full time job after leaving university, “companies just aren’t hiring right now. You look on graduate job websites and there just isn’t anything… every company that I speculatively email with the hopes that they have a job opening all reply saying they aren’t looking for anyone at the moment.” Matt has a first class degree in Philosophy from a Russell Group university but has already resigned himself to looking for internships where he would be overqualified, as he is desperate to get a job and like many graduates I’ve interviewed doesn’t have the money to be unemployed for months on end.
There are jokes in my friendship groups about how friends will constantly visit me while I study for a masters as “it’s not like I’ll have a job or anything”. We then laugh about the absurdity of our situation and carry on as normal. However, this really isn’t a laughing matter. Maria, 22, a first class graduate in Mechanical Engineering also from a Russell Group university told me with a wry smile on her face that “I’m not sure I’ll have a job in six months to be honest. I’ll take anything engineering related at the moment but no one wants graduates.” After looking up the statistics on her course I saw that 92% of those that graduated were employed or in further study after six months in 2017. These statistics are unlikely to be matched this year.
The squeezed job market isn’t only affecting those that want a graduate job but those that want casual work before continuing study or going travelling. I talked to Spencer, 21, and he told me how much the coronavirus had changed his plans; “I’d been planning to leave Uni, find a job as a barman or a waiter or something like that and apply for training contracts at law firms in September… I’d use the money I’d earned during the first six months after uni and then go travelling around South America before starting law school in September.” This plan is now in tatters post pandemic as not only is travelling around South America unlikely to be viable, but also fewer law firms are handing out training contracts and casual work is so much harder to come by. As well as this, inflated interest rates on masters fees has meant that he is not able to afford to consider one and so his only option is to wait and hope the situation gets better.
Even those who have been able to keep their graduate jobs are hampered by the coronavirus pandemic. In September many of these graduates will have to start a completely new job from home or vastly changed thanks to social distancing rules. These decisions have been left to the last minute by employers which has left people struggling to find accommodation in time to start their new job. Kate, 21, who is starting a new job in September said, “I was stuck in limbo really, first I didn’t know whether I was going to start the job at all and then they waited for weeks to tell me if I would be working from home or not. I was left in limbo when it came to accommodation to be honest because I didn’t want to spend money on rent if I didn’t need to go to work in person.”
Things are quite clearly hard for graduates right now but we can’t just give up. There are a plethora of things young people can do to bolster their CVs whilst they’re waiting. First, online courses. It is the age of the internet so use that to your advantage. There are loads of online courses in every subject imaginable and lots of them are completely free and well respected. Take digital marketing for example, Google run free online digital marketing courses that are highly respected by employers. Second, Volunteer. This can be in person or online and it shows employers that you are using your current free time productively. The United Nations runs a free online volunteering service where you can gain experience as well as helping some really good causes.
The third and final tip is obvious but needs a mention: remote internships. They aren’t the easiest to find or to get but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth applying for. The more you apply to, the more likely you are to get one. Now is the time to seize all those online opportunities and show employers just how innovative and dedicated you are.
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