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What are job prospects like for the class of 2021?

For the class of 2021, career prospects are far from what they ever imagined – as students are graduating into one of the toughest job markets in years. 

The pandemic, and the limitations that have come with it, has created countless disadvantages for students around the world. But a recent study revealing that university graduates are facing the highest unemployment rate since the austerity era, as a result of Covid-19, is their latest concern yet. 

As revealed by The Guardian, the unemployment rate for recent graduates in England aged between 21 and 30 reached 6.3% in 2020, during the first Coronavirus wave. This comes after unemployment rates in the country had gradually fallen on a yearly basis since peaking in 2012 at 6.5%. Additionally, one in eight graduates are unemployed due to the pandemic, The Financial Times reports. 

The class of 2021 saw Easter and summer internships cancelled as a result of the first national lockdown, as well as there being a limited ability to gain employment in fields not related to future careers. Last year, unemployment reached its highest since 2016 – meaning that older, and often more experienced, people were also applying for jobs too. 

Furthermore, due to the cancellation of graduate schemes for the class of 2020, the job market remains highly saturated. 26% of 2020’s final year students lost their internships, and 28% had graduate job offers taken away or deferred to the following year.

Recent university graduates are one of the hardest-hit groups

In the Department for Education’s report on graduate labour market statistics, it was stated that this trend “might suggest that the employment of young people is disproportionately influenced by changing structural conditions in the economy.” 

It is evident that financial hardship has been faced by several sectors throughout the course of the pandemic, indicating why companies are hiring people less. Statistics suggest that recent university graduates are one of the hardest-hit groups. 

Postgraduates have had it slightly easier in their hunt for jobs, with a 1.8% point gap in employment rates compared to those of graduates. 

Prior to the pandemic, it seemed that attending university and obtaining a degree was the golden ticket to securing a job. But with the current state of the UK’s economy, some students have begun to question whether higher education was really worth it. 

In a survey conducted by The Boar, in which graduates from several UK universities participated, only 28.6% revealed they are employed coming out of university. Within those 28.6% of employed participants, some revealed they were only working part-time and it was not in a sector they wished to pursue a career in long-term. Nevertheless, of the 28.6%, the majority of the employed participants revealed it was “easy” to find a job. 

I had always intended to progress to a Master’s degree, but if I hadn’t, I would have seriously considered it this year due to the current state we are in

– A 2021 graduate

Interestingly, for the remaining number of participants who stated they were currently unemployed – when asked about their plans for the coming year – 91.7% revealed they were going into further study, which either included a Master’s Degree or training for a qualification or position. 

Reasons for this varied, but the most popular response was a ‘panic masters’ due to the pandemic and the hardships this has created for the current job market, with one student writing, “I had always intended to progress to a Master’s degree, but if I hadn’t, I would have seriously considered it this year due to the current state we are in.” 

However, back in June, The Guardian reported that those who had decided to take on key worker roles – such as delivery drivers, supermarket workers, or even volunteering – had gained a greater advantage over their peers who had decided to stay in education for another year.

Nevertheless, some participants mentioned that a Master’s degree was always part of their plan, as it would provide them with more relevant skills when entering the workplace. One student wrote “many jobs that I was interested in required more experience or more relevant education” – raising questions about how recruiters require more skills than ever before, leaving those without a Master’s diploma at a disadvantage. 

Additionally, when asked whether difficulty finding jobs had affected students’ post-university plans, only 35.7% said “yes.” Of those, one student commented that the reason why their plans had changed as a result of the pandemic was because of “low salaries and extremely competitive job applications pre-interview stage.” 

However, when asked if they thought that the pandemic had limited graduates’ search for jobs, a majority of 85.7% agreed on “yes.” Reasons for this included fewer opportunities as companies who have been harshly hit by the pandemic are recruiting less. One student wrote: Companies aren’t hiring as much, which has made the job market extremely competitive. I only know a handful of people my age with jobs coming out of university. The rest are either taking gap years or panic masters, even though that wasn’t their original plan.” 

Another participant agreed, stating that: “The economic and social consequences of the pandemic and lockdowns have stripped a generation of a lot of opportunities and experience, which really makes it harder to get into the world of work. I sadly know many people unable to find a job and questioning if going to university was worth it in hindsight. Whilst many have lined up grad jobs or internships or pathways into major companies not everyone has been so lucky, and it’s even worse for graduates who didn’t want to go into the corporate world.” 

The unemployment crisis being faced by Britain’s young people is even more severe for those who have not attended higher education

Another participant commented that “I don’t think its limited jobs per se but its made the existing ones more competitive and means that many people who are (over) qualified for positions are struggling to get into jobs above entry level.” 

However, the majority of comments made reference to the fact the economy has yet to recover from the hardship it faced as a result of the UK’s lockdowns, a factor that is severely affecting young people’s search for employment. 

One participant highlighted the work experience many graduating students have missed out on over the course of the last year and a half, as several internships they had lined up were cancelled as a result of lockdowns and companies moving to remote work. This has limited students from gaining experience, which severely affects their applications in their search for jobs.

While university graduates have been disproportionately affected by unemployment as a result of the pandemic,  The Guardian also found that there were also disparities in youth unemployment rates among those of ethnic groups, as well as people with disabilities. The study found that white graduates had the highest employment rate, of 86.8%, compared to 81.2% of black graduates. The rate of employment for disabled graduates was lower, at 73.4%. 

The study also found that the unemployment crisis being faced by Britain’s young people is even more severe for those who have not attended higher education, with rates of unemployment doubling those of university graduates. 

It is clear that the coronavirus generation of students is graduating into bleak uncertainty, and their career prospects are worse than ever before. Is there hope for the graduating class of 2021? Only time will tell. 


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