Graduating in Covid: The impact of the pandemic on younger workers

While older generations are most at risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19, the broader impact falls disproportionately heavily on the young.

That reality was starkly highlighted in this week’s unemployment figures which show that while unemployment has risen to an average of 4.5% (in the three months up to August), it soars for those aged 16-24 years old to 13.4%.

As we wrote last week, anecdotal evidence from our community suggests that many younger colleagues are seeing their entire university ‘class of….’ Finding themselves without a job and either going back to study or moving back home to make ends meet while they engage in what could be a lengthy job search.

This week we’ve been examining the impact of the COVID recession on younger workers and collecting some of their stories as a pen portrait of how the pandemic is impacting Generation Y and Z.

Henry Jennings, Masters, Plant Sciences, University of Bristol

Having just finished my Masters in Plant Sciences at the University of Bristol, I have hopes of going on to work in agricultural biotechnology research. Prior to Covid-19, I had been offered a paid role carrying on the research I had focussed on for my Masters, investigating plant viruses. However, this inevitably fell through when the labs shut down. Almost overnight, it became near-impossible to find any graduate roles, with the vast majority of roles that I have applied for seeking candidates with several years’ worth of experience (setting me at a stark disadvantage from the outset, regardless of my degree).

I have also applied to several roles outside of science such as tree and plant nurseries despite having no formal background or qualification in horticulture. It also concerns me that such a role would leave a gaping hole in my CV in terms of my lab skills and experience, which are so key to progressing within scientific research, when more suitable roles do become available. I fear this could stunt my career development, if I do not secure relevant and invaluable lab experience.

Sebastian Gentry, History MA graduate from University of Edinburgh

“HOT: This job has received 137 applications. Apply now!” The routine has become at best repetitive and at worst completely demoralising. Days spent carefully crafting cover letters and fine-tuning CVs only to hear back months later – often only a week or two before the job was actually meant to begin – with a generic rejection email, always without any form of feedback.

As a recent graduate applying for my first proper, full-time job, there exists a bewildering dilemma. Maybe this is just the reality of job-searching? Perhaps this is just a process that everyone goes through and I have no right to complain? Either way, the fact that job offers categorised as “Graduate” and “Entry-Level” state that they require “2-3 (or even sometimes 5+) years of experience in similar roles” does not seem normal.

Logically, a surge in qualified applicants at a time when most businesses are looking to cut expenses will mean that employers can afford to be pickier about their requirements. The consequence is that graduates are made to lower their expectations and apply for any opportunity they can get hold of (often, as a result, facing rejections due to being “overqualified”).

This is especially challenging for one’s self-esteem; throughout school and higher education the promise has always been that if you worked hard your future career prospects would be bright. Yet, the majority of my friends around me, even those who achieved first-class honours from prestigious universities, are now facing the prospect of living at home or on benefits for the foreseeable future. The obvious alternative would be to do a Masters. However, in the wake of what is an already disappointing graduate experience, the prospect of paying more money for a course that will be conducted almost entirely virtually is very unattractive.

Grace Connaughton, BPP University

Covid-19 has definitely had a negative impact on the way I view the job market, as mass unemployment is now inevitable. However, this does mean that there is much less negative stigma attached to claiming welfare, which I think can be a positive.

In terms of working in London, it magnifies the inequalities between rich and poor, with students being on the worse-off end.

During the pandemic, I decided to go back to school because once I left the office and started home working, my job was stripped back to its bare bones and I realised I didn’t enjoy it without the social perks. I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in psychology and thought if I didn’t change now, I never would.

I think this is a common theme now with more of our generation going back to school. Young people are really starting to think twice about the types of career paths we want to pursue as a result of the pandemic.

For me at least, I wanted to do something that made a difference and an impact on the wider world.

Luckily I have a family that can financially support me so I could make this change without too much worry, but many people do not have this luxury and are unfortunately unable to get the help they so desperately need.

Right now, the job market is collapsing and we’re heading for mass unemployment. People who are very overqualified aren’t able to get jobs that are well below their level because there is so much competition.

As I’m now pursuing a master’s degree in psychology, I’m hoping to be able to find a job with a bit more ease once things have settled down. 

Student from the University of Arkansas

London is well-known as being one of, if not the fashion capital of the world. The city is made up of trendy influencers, cutting-edge designers and high streets filled with some of the world’s most reputable name brands.

When pursuing a career in fashion, London is the place to be. Well, at least that was the case before Covid-19 hit. The pandemic has caused many boutiques to face foreclosure and start up designers now struggle making ends meet. This has had a big impact on not only the fashion industry itself, but also on those trying to establish a career in the field.

As a college graduate with over two years of fashion experience, I’ve seen first-hand what the pandemic has caused to our industry. My first job was working as a stylist for a high-end women’s clothing boutique in Spitalfields Market. After barely a month into the lockdown, the company was forced to close its doors.

Following months of applications and interviews during a time when I couldn’t even leave the house, my second job was a social media coordinator for an online fashion company who sold well-known clothing brands. While continuing to face the hardships of COVID and the potential of another lockdown, they weren’t to keep the role full-time and could only offer it as a paid internship. The problem we’re now facing is for those of us who aren’t recent graduates and have a few years of work experience. Companies are now creating a gap between internships and experienced professionals and don’t have the money to employ those who are in-between.

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