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Have Warwick students found summer work in a pandemic?

The summer may have arrived for university students, but that doesn’t mean a holiday is directly around the corner. Firstly, the widespread variation in different travel restrictions has affected the amount of international holiday making that can take place. Unless you want to self-isolate following your travel, depending on ever-changing Covid travel rules in the UK, venturing overseas suddenly looks a lot less appealing.  

Alongside this, the stress that comes with being a student can involve looking for summer work. Given that teaching at most universities doesn’t properly start up again until the end of September, there are nearly three months available to find summer employment that can make someone stand out in their CV. The focus for students in higher education is often on looking to the future and completing work today that is helpful in the long term.  

But finding summer work is easier said than done. At any period, the number of applications for internships relative to the number of places available is usually a high ratio. The level of competition can be immensely intense. However, this year, on top of this is the added pressure of coronavirus. Last year the BBC reported that employers saw thousands of applications to a limited number of roles.

Even with the vaccine rollout and easing of restrictions, workplaces have been variable in how open they have been to temporary staff. While a job opportunity looks good on one’s CV, the realistic nature of it actually arriving is not so certain.  

So how have Warwick students found trying to seek employment? Considering the high reputation of Warwick graduates – with the university’s graduates the fourth most targeted by top graduate employers – looking at students’ ability to gain work experience over the summer could shed some light as to why they are so well regarded.

Second year usually offers the balance between having some academic knowledge while also having another year at university ahead

15 students undertook a Google Forms survey for The Boar Features that asked a multitude of questions on their plans for summer employment. Though a small sample, it can still provide a good deal of insight into whether summer working can remain a reality for students or, like many other parts of life pre-Covid, has become a thing of the past.  

It’s important to note that 60% of the sample were second-year undergraduates. This is usually where opportunities can be available, with many companies and governmental bodies looking for students in their penultimate years of higher education. 

Furthermore, first-years (13.3% of the sample) may not have enough academic knowledge to be properly competitive with an internship application. Finalists (20% of survey takers) are usually looking for something more long term post-graduation, or want to use the summer to relax after a busy three years. Second year usually offers the balance between having some academic knowledge while also having another year at university ahead.  

Finding summer work in the future can naturally feel easier if you’ve had such work in the past. 40% of students had found summer work in the past, suggesting that level of repetition and confidence can exist. Nearly half, however, hadn’t had summer work at university in the past, implying how individuals might be using the easing of the pandemic as an opportunity to find roles that will have not have been obtainable before due to the restrictions.  

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed by The Boar Features had not had summer work cancelled last year because of Covid. Given restrictions in the UK were introduced in March 2020, perhaps only very prepared individuals may have already found summer work by then. Only two students had experienced cancelled summer work. 

Of the 14 looking for summer work, 10 had managed to find it

All but one of those who had been surveyed by The Boar Features had been looking for summer work this year, highlighting just how ingrained it is within the university culture and playing a significant role in how we manage the academic year. It also again suggests a lack of defeatism despite the pandemic, with people wanting to find ways both to earn some money and also gain valuable skills for their CV. The opportunity to interact with new people after a year of isolation is also something people may be seeking.  

Of the 14 looking for summer work, 10 had managed to find it, demonstrating a high level of success despite the immense competition that exists for such placements. However, one-fourth being unable to find placements so far suggests that the opportunities available remain stark and continue to be exacerbated by the pandemic. Firms will have used the restrictions to potentially make long term changes about how their companies operate, which naturally might provide less flexibility for new staff.  

That being said, not all summer work is academic or related to a future career – sometimes the opportunities for career-advancing work aren’t there, or people just want an opportunity to earn some money. 53.3% of respondents had found summer work related to their degree, demonstrating a mixture of perhaps more academic or vocational choices. Often, job opportunities are more based on what is available, which invariably affects the direction of employment.  

The tenure of temporary work offered can also be valuable. While many students will work part-time alongside their degrees, summer work is always seen as a temporary opportunity. Nearly half of respondents had summer work lasting more than four weeks, demonstrating that individuals had been able to find employment of a long term tenure. In contrast, employment lasting one week, two weeks, or four weeks only had one respondent each – suggesting the wish for financial security over the summer was desired.  

Of the 10 people who had found employment, nine were being paid for their roles

The pandemic has made numerous changes to our lives – this is the understatement of the year. One of those has surely been the increase in time spent online through the shift to working remotely from home. Within the survey respondents, there was a mixture of experiences with this Covid-19-related change – one-third of respondents were seeing remote employment take place, while just over one-fourth were having in-person employment. Just one person was experiencing hybrid working through a mixture of in-person and remote employment.  

The desire to be paid is immensely strong within employment, and as it should be. We are all adults and deserve to be compensated for our time. Of the 10 people who had found employment, nine were being paid for their roles, demonstrating the clear focus on paid employment as a worthy ideal. Of the one-third of people unable to find employment, it remains to be seen whether – if they are successful – they will be paid or not.  

Summer work is something we are supposed to reflect upon fondly in our later years. Weeks spent at a firm or company might provide that one crucial contact that comes to serve us well when we are fully employed. But the experience of finding work itself should also be remembered as immensely stressful, and something that is not easy. While a job may have its challenges, this can also be said for the recruitment process. We would all do well to remember this, as a long summer of uncertainty and unlocking unfolds.

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