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Illustration by Sarah Fay

Society

The Pandemic and Youth Unemployment

By Katie Stephenson and Niamh O’Connell

On Monday 23rd of March 2020, the UK went into a nationwide lockdown due to the effects of Covid-19; at this time many students across the country were in the final months of their degree and faced the challenge of writing the majority of their final project or dissertation from home. 

Although many universities adapted to online learning, the lack of face-to-face communication with tutors added stress to this final stage of completing a degree. Most 2020 graduates finished their degrees at the beginning of summer and anticipated their graduation, which for many had been postponed or delayed. For students and graduates the summer months provide a break from education and for some mark the beginning of their new journey, transitioning from university to the competitive working world.

For 2020 graduates, summer signified a time for rest after finishing a degree and doing so at the beginning of a global pandemic. For many graduates, leaving the familiar clasp of the education system and entering into the job market is an exciting, yet daunting experience. However, the ‘Corona Class of 2020’  faced even tougher challenges when it came to seeking employment, largely caused by the economic downfall from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The impact of Coronavirus added to the existing pressure and struggles experienced by school leavers and graduates to secure a job in such a competitive market, when there is already a large increase in unemployment for young people aged 16 to 24.  Research by Milkround, a UK-based graduate jobs website, found that just 18% of graduates had secured a job in 2020, compared to the typical 60%, with many businesses retracting job offers and pressing pause on recruitment. 

The new virtual way of working made the recruitment process heavily time-consuming and impersonal. Countless online tests and pre-recorded video interviews meant that young people were faced with endless job rejections without even speaking directly to the employer or recruiter. Arguably, this is disheartening for many graduates. 

On a personal level, I can relate to this experience as during the pandemic the company I worked for chose to not furlough staff on 0 hours contracts, forcing me to go onto Universal Credit. Then, after applying for jobs and getting turned down for ‘not being the right fit’ despite my qualifications, I ended up receiving a blank email from my employer with my P45 as an indication I was being let go. Although this is my personal experience, I know it isn’t individual to myself and many graduates end up unemployed, in debt and claiming benefits despite committing to their education and spending thousands of pounds – indicating an obvious issue with higher education and the current work model.

One issue in particular that is rarely addressed is the lack of support graduates receive at university in preparing them for the ‘working world’. Even after three years of studying, most graduates are unsure of the career path they want to pursue and feel pressure to find their ‘dream job’ straight away. 

Many job advertisements require previous experience in the relevant field of work. So despite graduates having all the skills and knowledge required to finish their degree, they may still be unable to gain relevant work compared to individuals who did not attend university and have had time to gain experience. This creates a vicious cycle in which young people looking for work are unable to get even an interview due to not having had any real experience in the ‘world of work’. As a result this creates a lot of stress for new graduates who have worked hard to secure a degree and spent a lot of money and time doing so.

In addition, limited individual support is provided by most universities, adding to the ‘you are on your own now’ feeling that many graduates face when finishing university. This lack of support and guidance can have a negative impact on the mental health of recent graduates, who may feel lost and develop a low self-esteem and confidence after facing many rejections once university has ended. It would be useful for universities to emphasise the importance of gaining work experience and thinking about your career path whilst still at university and provide more guidance and opportunities for undergraduates during their degree.

In sum, the ‘concept’ of going to university has always been one where as a student you make a decision to invest thousands of pounds into your education and indeed your future. As a result, it is assumed that through this investment you are guaranteed a job in your chosen field of work. In reality, many graduates are left jobless with little real experience of the working world and many, like myself, forced to claim benefits. 

We must then ask ourselves,’ is three years of stress and thousands of pounds worth of student debt really worth a degree?’ when we are still competing against individuals without a degree who often have more worthwhile work experience than ourselves. Considering the current pandemic, youth unemployment will only get worse. 

The effects of Covid-19 on youth unemployment and career prospects signifies a need for employers to work with recruitment companies and universities to develop more sustainable support systems for students during university. It is becoming increasingly likely that current university students will graduate into a post-pandemic global recession, making it imperative that young people receive the support they deserve from universities, employers and our government.