I am running out of words to describe it, this lockdown. Unprecedented. Weird. Dispiriting. Sad. Extraordinary. Bleak. And some other words which I’m not going to write down. So it would be entirely understandable if any student or recent graduate were asking, ‘is there currently any point in engaging with the recruitment process?’ But at the moment the simple answer to that question is, yes.
Of course a simple answer leaves a lot out. We simply don’t know much of what we will need to know before a full answer could be given; how long the current restrictions will remain in place, how effective they will be and the impact of any government initiatives to maintain national economies – just three elements of many. But there are some reasons to dare to be positive. Or failing that, at least not entirely negative about the current employment situation for student job-seekers:
Graduate recruitment is extremely unlikely to cease (opportunities are almost always accessible to postgraduates too)
During the last recession, in and around 2008, most employers with graduate schemes kept them open, albeit with reduced numbers than previous years. They had learnt the lesson of the recession before that one, in the early 1990s (some of us graduated into that one), when they had closed down graduate recruitment altogether, and subsequently suffered from a lack of fresh and enthusiastic new talent when things started to look up again. So although there is no way of telling in any detail what the recruitment environment will look like both in the shorter term and after the current situation has passed, there are strong reasons to be confident that graduate recruitment will continue.
A few weeks ago the Institute of Student Employers carried out a survey of their members – only 3.6% predicted a substantial decrease in the numbers of graduates they were planning to recruit. 42.3% were not anticipating any change, and 27.9% simply did not know at that point. Clearly those figures do demonstrate concern and tentativeness amongst employers and indeed the survey results would have been out of date almost as soon as they were released. But the figures suggest that the complete and utter collapse of opportunities for graduates seems unlikely. And although all employers are moving their recruitment processes on-line, with all the challenges which that entails, they are not on the whole cancelling them altogether.
Different jobs will emerge…
They always have. A student who becomes aware of what these are is not necessarily the same student who will have the skills, experience or inclination to do them, but there will undoubtedly be students who will find something which really suits them from new opportunities. Charlie Ball, Head of Higher Education Intelligence at Prospects, writes:
‘At the moment, some areas of demand are reasonably apparent. Health and social care professionals, IT and professionals in infrastructure and logistics are likely to be at a premium right now, along with workers in essential supply chains.’
That mention of the 1990’s just now made me think of what I did immediately after graduation. I had a number of part-time jobs and gained a valuable range of experience. Gaining valuable experience emphatically remains an option, and a recommended one. On-line options open a wealth of opportunities accessible without leaving the house which did not exist in the days when a telephone (an immobile one!), which went as far as to record messages when you were out, was considered quite smart enough.
These are far from easy times and no graduates in any previous year have had to experience anything like this. There’s no point in pretending that separation from loved ones, cancelled travel plans, aborted work experience opportunities, postponed graduation ceremonies – and 101 other things that didn’t work out as expected, is anything other than horrible. But now is not for ever. There are plenty of activities – almost all of them enjoyable and interesting in their own right – which can develop the sorts of skills employers recruit for. And yes, there are a few slivers of hope out there in terms of work options after studies.