Recent statistics for graduate employment make for grim reading. In July, it was reported that new graduates faced the toughest labour market for 75 years, and that 30% of university students had lost their job or an offer of a job (The Guardian, 29 June 2020).
On average there were 100 graduates applying for each role. Graduate job openings fell by 77% in May 2020 and are still down by 61% on pre-Covid levels (ZipRecruiter), with Milkround reporting that just 18% of graduates currently securing jobs compared to 60% typically at this time of year. The situation is set to worsen, with rising unemployment, recruitment freezing, and the global economy facing the deepest recession since World War Two. With inevitable wage depression likely whilst the economy is struggling, the outlook is fairly gloomy even for those who are fortunate enough to get a job.
What can you do to reduce the chance of being one of these statistics? There’s no doubt that tough times are ahead for many graduates, with too many uncertainties in the equation to be able to predict when the situation will start to improve. But there are some things that you can be doing during this time to improve your job prospects – here are a few.
Whilst some sectors such as tourism may be declining, there will inevitably be others that will be boosted by the current situation. The Times reported on 3 October 2020 that a fast-track training programme recruiting high-flying graduates to become mental health social workers has proved so popular that it is being expanded to meet demand, with the number of trainees expected to increase from 100 to 160 next year. Competition was so fierce that 30 candidates were competing for each place; details of recruitment are on the charity Think Ahead’s website. The Civil Service has rolled out 3,500 Work Coach roles across the country to deal with the anticipated rise in claims for Universal Credit, and it may be that more of these will be released with time. And as Brexit kicks in, there will inevitably be further job opportunities opening in both private and public organisations. So keep an eye out for these as and when they arise.
Be flexible and consider options that may not have been your first choice. The Institute of Student Employers annual student recruitment survey 2019 showed that 86% of employers do not care what a student studied (The Guardian, 18 May 2020). Look at the skills that you acquired during your degree and reflect on how these could be deployed more widely. Can your university careers department help to identify other career options that you may not have previously considered?
The Guardian’s Amelia Hill has identified two organisations that have been set up specifically to help graduates. The charity upReach provides an intensive programme of support for graduates primarily from disadvantaged backgrounds. And when the pandemic struck, two graduates set up Generation Help, a platform for graduates and SMEs to connect and collaborate. Companies such as The Interview Skills Clinic offer graduate interview coaching.
You may have to lower your expectations temporarily, and no job opportunity should be overlooked. Each will bring with it a valuable set of skills that you can develop. Develop your organisational skills, customer relationship skills, teamworking skills, and the ability to work under pressure, by working as a takeaway delivery driver. Ditto as a waiter or bartender. How about a receptionist, where you can additionally learn IT skills? Each will bring with it learning opportunities and will look much better on a CV then a blank space, whilst you’re simply waiting until something better comes along.
Another way of using this time effectively whilst gaining skills and knowledge is to undertake online courses. A Google search will bring up a host of courses suited to every need and taste – look at the free courses and qualifications funded by the Government . Chose a course that will enhance your current experience and skills to put you a little further ahead of someone else in your field when you next apply for a role; alternatively, chose something entirely new to develop different skills, and which will allow you to stand out by talking about something unique at a future job interview.
Finally, you should consider voluntary work, a brilliant way to not only gain skills and experience and boost your CV, but also to give something back either to your community or wider. Employers with Corporate and Social Responsibility programs look for employees whose values align with their own, so talking about volunteering at interviews, and the unique skills gained as a volunteer, will put you ahead of the game. Many NHS volunteers, who traditionally come from retired backgrounds, are now needing to shield at home, so there is a dearth of volunteers in an organisation that relies heavily on them. Look at the Government’s site or the Royal Voluntary Service’s site for ideas, or The National Council for Volunteering Organisations for local opportunities. If you can’t commit to regular time or travel, and would prefer to do volunteering work from home, consider the United Nations online volunteering service, one of many online volunteering opportunities that are available, offering projects for online volunteers with diverse backgrounds and experience/expertise.
However bleak the future looks at the moment, the world will come to terms with Covid in the near future, and you should try to ensure that you use this time as effectively as possible to enhance and promote your skills for when opportunities start to arise. Good luck!