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Opinion: Coronavirus will have a profound impact upon student and graduate employment, but the workforce still needs us

On the 23rd March the government announced the most interventionist peacetime measures in history. These measures have been temporary, but students may suffer significantly from the lockdown’s legacy.

By Elliot Chilton, First Year Politics and Sociology

On the 23rd March the government announced the most interventionist peacetime measures in history. These measures have been temporary, but students may suffer significantly from the lockdown’s legacy.

With graduate positions being axed or delayed, and a job market which is far from what we came to know in our internships, degree holders are left unrewarded for years of dedication.

It is undeniable that whilst employers should be praised for maintaining graduate schemes in such difficult circumstances, the reality of these schemes is likely to disappoint. That is to say that it seems a crying shame that a glittering CV and months of work experience for many will, at best, result in an online placement.

Of course, no section of society has been let off the hook by the lockdown –  all groups face pay cuts, reduced hours and redundancy. However, graduating students do not have the employment experience – or, in many cases, the financial buffer – to stomach the changing job market.

Middle-aged professionals are more likely to be able to transition to new jobs, or at least new working practices by virtue of the amount of experience they have accumulated within an industry. Whereas, for students and graduates, the only preparation is likely to come from unpaid work experience, or in a best case scenario an 8-week internship, with the skills picked up hardly being transferrable to the ‘new workplace’.

Things we students have come to believe are integral components of graduate employment, such as  face-to-face meetings, hot desking, and business travel, are now seen as impractical and unnecessary as a result of the lockdown.

It’s not just graduates, however, who will be facing difficulties with employment. ONS data shows that the largest source of employment for under 24s is the service sector – many of these part-time student jobs – which prominent accounting consortium KPMG expect to be the most vulnerable sector to a tripling unemployment rate.

The risk then, is that less advantaged students will not be able to afford University when they cannot be assured of part-time employment.

I for one have lost two part-time jobs to COVID-19 restrictions, and know peers in a similar position.  While I may be fortunate enough to cope with this hit in the short-term, the picture is much bleaker for already underprivileged students. The growing concern is of course, that the repercussions of the pandemic on the student workforce will exacerbate the socio-economic divide already present on our campuses.

All of this contributes to the sense of great anxiety apparent in our community, which finds itself at a murky crossroads.

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Should current students prepare for a ‘new normal’ of working from home and receiving online education, or should they expect working practices to largely be restored to pre-COVID norms by the time they graduate? Should students expect to live without part-time income in the 2020/21 academic year, or hope that more jobs will become available as sectors like hospitality revive over the coming months?

These fears paint a worrying picture for students and graduates before even considering the socially isolating effects of the lockdown, which have been catastrophic for the many students already suffering with mental health.

So what can be done? I think it is fair to suggest that reassurance can be found in the fact that a whole generation face similar concerns. While we may be apart, in many ways the British student body has never been so connected. This may not ease material fears around employment and income, but it does at least demonstrate that no one is exempt from the effects of the pandemic.

Moreover, on a more positive note, the changing economy is likely to bring new opportunities for casual employment. Perhaps the most significant source of solace for us all can be the fact that the economy needs graduates, however we come.

There may well be short-term uncertainty, but the reality is that the graduate placements so many students turn to at the end of their final year do not exist solely to benefit students; they exist to keep companies operating competitively.

So, whilst in the short-term these opportunities may not be what we imagined, they will still exist in the post-COVID-19 world, and companies will still wish to attract graduates despite the pandemic’s impact on the workforce.

Featured Illustration: Alice Proctor

How do you feel as a student about the current job market? Let us know.