For those whose university days concluded on a random weekday last March, the coronavirus pandemic has been a massive wake up call. Today, their dream careers have hit a massive road bump in the form of an economic recession.
However, we could see this coming for some time. As early as May, The Daily Telegraph reported that advertisements for graduate jobs had collapsed by a staggering seventy-five per cent. The enormous slump saw graduate positions fall from 15,000 to just 3,000 and subsequently, almost one-hundred students will be vying for every single graduate position.
Nonetheless, it is not just students who are struggling in Covid’s economic fallout. It is estimated that approximately a quarter of a million Britons have been made redundant in this year’s second economic quarter alone, the largest quarterly fall since the financial crash over a decade ago.
For many students, this is a frightful time to attempt to enter the workplace. Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, the world of work was a cut-throat place for graduates to enter, with the false dreams of a university degree foisted upon us by the ‘education, education, education’ mantra of the Blair years. But the pandemic’s economic downturn has added even more pressure, not only on recent graduates, but on all of those currently studying at university.
So what are students going to do? My anecdotal evidence from friends at university and in my home county of Essex has highlighted that students, who outside of a pandemic would never have wanted to undertake a postgraduate degree, are now considering studying for a Master’s. A degree that many consider as a necessary evil to prevent any post-university setback. Many costly postgraduate courses will not equip young people any more so for the vocation they wish to pursue, however, in fear of struggling in the current economic climate this is a sacrifice many students are willing to make.
And why wouldn’t they? For myself, a wannabe political journalist, it is hard to ignore the fact that over five-hundred jobs have been cut from the Reach plc group, the group that owns The Daily Express. Similar measures have been made across all British media outlets, and more importantly, across all sectors in the economy. I was always aware that the world of work would be an incredibly scary and unforgiving place, but now I see it almost terrifying.
What’s more, if a student is not totally sure what career path they wish to pursue, and believe me thousands of students have absolutely no idea, a year with little to no opportunity to network, obtain work experience or even apply for the ultra-competitive internship programmes will hardly help them in making their minds up. Nevertheless, if my anecdotal evidence is correct, British universities, who according to the IFS are taking a massive financial hit from coronavirus, will welcome the larger intake of postgraduate students who pay far more than undergraduates.
While I have seriously considered studying a postgraduate degree, I am not sure what it will do other than prolong the inevitable. With the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Lamont, describing the possibility of a V-shaped economic recovery as an ‘enormous challenge’, it would seem that the current assessment of the financial cost of Covid, made no easier with the continuation of a lamentable lockdown, is just the tip of the iceberg. The challenge facing the British economy cannot fill students with high levels of confidence.
Students need to be honest with themselves; these next few years are going to be really hard as those made redundant with vast experience in the fields of work that we wish to enter will inevitably be infinitely more preferable to employers than offering roles to freshly-faced graduates totally unacquainted with the workplace. The unparalleled experience of a former employee, in any field of work, makes it a no brainer for businesses that are struggling to stay afloat. It is, therefore, unsurprising that between March and July, unemployment-related benefits claims increased by over 120 per cent for those aged between 16 and 24.
We are, unfortunately, beginning to see what a post-Covid economy will look like. A BBC article recently stated that in less than 24-hours after the advertisement was posted online, almost one-thousand people applied for a receptionist position in Manchester. Many applicants to roles, including at a fragrance company in Alnwick, were over-qualified. Emily Pringle of Notes of Northumberland added that some of those applying for her vacancy had needless qualifications, such as PhDs.
But what will all of this mean for me? I have no idea. Possibly a costly postgraduate degree. Or maybe, after three years of reading history at one of the world’s top universities, I will be pulling pints in my local pub – unless of course the government reinstates Draconian lockdown measures that will close them all.
By J Walters