What will happen to the students and graduates of COVID-19?

As recruitment is no longer a priority, current University students and recent graduates are left without options.

A recent YouGov survey has found that job opportunities for University graduates have drastically declined, with 61% of all surveyed employers stating that they have cancelled some or all graduate placements.

Almost half (46%) of all graduates say that they have missed out on job opportunities due to the coronavirus pandemic. Just under a fifth (18%) of students surveyed said that they had had work-experience placements cancelled or postponed, while more than one in 10 (11%) have had interviews cancelled and 4% have had a job offer withdrawn.

The survey found that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were the most likely to have cancelled internships and work experience placements, with almost half (49%) doing so, compared to just 29% of larger businesses.

It isn’t just subject to this year’s graduates who will be impacted by the virus, as 48% of companies think there will continue to be fewer opportunities for graduates, putting the University students of today at a disadvantage. Many students in the second year of their studies look to summer internships to gain work experience, as many cannot balance work and studies. However, with coronavirus hitting its peak in the summer months, many graduates in the coming years won’t have work experience that would otherwise be deemed crucial on job applications.

Despite the coronavirus taking job opportunities away from both graduates and students, nearly half (42%) of employers said they were unlikely to take time out of education or work due to the virus into account in any future hiring decisions. However, a similar proportion (44%) said that they were likely to do so. So, graduates in the coming years will have an equal chance of both being rejected or accepted for interviews based on the impact of a pandemic, of which they had no control.

The report found that graduates from low socio-economic backgrounds will be hit the hardest, as they are unable to rely on family for financial support through unemployment, unpaid internships or postgraduate study – which can be significantly higher than a bachelors degree, coupled with less in student loans from the Government.

The survey recommends that employers begin to offer paid internships, as qualified low-income students and graduates will have little to no access to the job market otherwise: “Social mobility should not suffer because of the pandemic. With fewer jobs likely to be available, employers should redouble efforts to open up opportunities to the best talent. This should include paying and openly advertising internships, contextualising recruitment practices and monitoring the socio-economic background of the workforce,” state the report’s authors Erica Holt-White and Rebecca Montacute.

With graduates from a lower socio-economic background at the most risk, promoting social mobility and fair access after than pandemic is more important now, than ever. Encouragingly, 29% of those surveyed said that social mobility and socio-economic diversity would be more of a priority in the years following the pandemic.

How can employers help?

Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft shared what companies should do, and why they should be concerned: “One of the biggest worries this country faces is the skills challenge, with many industries being severely hit by the pandemic. Work experience represents a crucial skills channel for businesses in the UK and as the talent pipeline begins to stall, the skills gap will continue to widen.

“Organisations will need to think holistically about managing reskilling, upskilling and job transitioning. As the war for talent intensifies due to the post-pandemic circumstances, employee development and talent pooling will become increasingly vital to building a modern workforce that’s adaptable and flexible.

“Addressing and easing workplace role transitions will require new training models and approaches that include on-the-job training and opportunities that support and signpost workers to opportunities to upgrade their skills. Similarly, investing in digital talent platforms that foster fluidity, by matching workers and their skills with new work opportunities within the enterprise will be key.”

When speaking with The Guardian, Sir Peter Lampl, the founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “It is crystal clear that young people will bear the brunt for years to come of the massive downturn caused by Covid-19 and young people from poorer backgrounds will be most affected.

“Employers will need policies in place to allow everyone a fair chance of being recruited to the lower number of graduate jobs available. As internships and work-experience placements are declining, employers need to move their programmes online. We need to act now to make sure that all young people have opportunities to enter the labour market.”

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