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The class of Covid-19: navigating the job market in an economic downturn

For the Class of 2020, there will be far fewer jobs than in the previous year due to the novel Covid-19 and the subsequent economic downturn around the globe, leaving many with far fewer opportunities. For those who had secured graduate roles, internships and vacation schemes, there is greater uncertainty as to when they will begin, or whether they will go ahead at all. According to Prospects, nearly 30% of UK graduates have seen their jobs deferred or cancelled. As law firms, banks and consultancies furlough workers and close their offices, graduates and interns are no longer important to many employers as they struggle to pay their own staff, let alone invest in new, inexperienced graduates.

As with the graduates of 2008 and 2009, students graduating this year will witness lower earnings as they enter a frozen job market. Graduate vacancies this year were down by 66% compared to last year, and for students from low socio-economic backgrounds, the chances of attaining or holding onto jobs and internships are even worse. In a report by social mobility charity upReach, one student worried that every internship they had applied to had been cancelled and that this would “make it very difficult to get a job”. In 2008, 9% of employers revoked their offers for internships or graduate roles, compared to around 30% in 2020, with more rejections looming as 27% of firms reduce the number of graduates that they are hiring. The reality is that graduates navigating the world of work are facing harsher conditions in 2020 than those during the financial crash.

In 2008, 9% of employers revoked their offers for internships or graduate roles, compared to around 30% in 2020, with more rejections looming as 27% of firms reduce the number of graduates that they are hiring.

Instead, students and graduates are adapting to virtual internships, vacation schemes, and graduate schemes that rely on platforms such as InsideSherpa to take part in modular programmes and “shadow” their managers in completing real work. While online courses can make learning more accessible, virtual learning disproportionately affects students from low socio-economic backgrounds who do not have personal connections that can help them to gain exposure to the commercial work. This has a negative effect on performance in interviews and future job applications as they have not experienced the realities of their chosen career paths in the person. Furthermore, as students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have access to adequate technology, internet and learning spaces, this can have a detriment on the future prospects of students who have secured internships, as they cannot perform as effectively as their well-off peers.

That said, the efforts made by many firms to replicate the in-person experience online have empowered students to fight harder for their careers. Firms such as JP Morgan, Clifford Chance, and Mayer Brown are building in networking and working on real deals into their programmes to maximise the learning experiences for students on their schemes. As larger firms recruit a couple of years into the future, many opportunities are still open to graduates.

While this period is one of anxiety, the summer can be used productively to improve skills and fill gaps on CVs. Careers such as teaching and technology have witnessed an increase in demand for graduates, opening up routes into careers that many students had not previously considered. The interconnectivity of the business world, alongside the sympathy and enthusiasm to help this year’s graduating class, have opened up a unique opportunity to network with business professionals and university alumni through LinkedIn and alumni networks. This is a chance to make contacts in industries that students may be interested in as more professionals have time to give advice.

Being flexible in learning new skills and taking opportunities where possible can enable students to build both soft and hard skills, making the 2020 graduating class attractive to employers by showing resilience and adaptability.

Furthermore, being flexible in learning new skills and taking opportunities where possible can enable students to build both soft and hard skills, making the 2020 graduating class attractive to employers by showing resilience and adaptability. Hard skills such as coding, data analysis, and financial modelling can be learned online through organisations such as Code First Girls and Duolingo, which are adaptable to a variety of careers and in high demand. For soft skills, volunteering and part-time work will be beneficial in learning customer-oriented skills, communication and organisational skills. Many skills are transferable to a range of careers, and they demonstrate proactive behaviours during a time of crisis. By dedicating a couple of hours a day to learning new skills, graduates can gain access to careers that they had not explored, as well as increasing their employability for careers which they are interested in.

Although the Class of 2020 will be negatively affected due to the economic downturn and lack of opportunities to travel to jobs, graduates can use their summer to boost their employability, sometimes from the comfort of their bedrooms. Whilst some companies are taking steps to ensure that their future intakes still have access to the opportunities that they worked incredibly hard for, it is important to acknowledge that students from low socio-economic backgrounds will inevitably suffer more as students from such backgrounds cannot access the resources that wealthier peers have easy access to. Thus, for all graduates navigating the post-Covid-19 job market, it is crucial that graduate recruitment teams also ensure that diversity and inclusion is not placed on the back burner.

 

 

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