University graduates are feeling the pinch of COVID-19 on their job prospects, with many forced to adapt their career paths as a result. A new study by job site Indeed reveals 80 percent of tertiary graduates feel downcast about graduate employment prospects in their chosen field of study, believing the job market has been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
Nearly 9 in 10 graduates are expecting 2021 to be a difficult year to find a job in their field of study.
More than a third – 35 percent – of graduates say they won’t bother looking for a graduate job in 2021.
The research also revealed that those SMEs hiring graduates may have greater access to top talent as a result of less competition from large organizations.
Students in metro areas and overseas students are feeling the job squeeze the most. Graduates in regional areas are the least concerned, but many still predict a tough job market.
In addition to believing the job market has worsened compared to pre-COVID levels, two-thirds of graduates expect that remuneration in their field of study will be lower. Graduates in metro areas are significantly more likely to think salaries in their field of study will be highly impacted. Students are resigned to challenges ahead and adapting careers and lifestyles.
How graduates are adapting to changed marketplace conditions
Despite reduced employment prospects, many tertiary graduates are taking an ‘accept and adapt’ approach. Nearly three-quarters are considering either extending their studies to include postgraduate qualifications, starting a new course from scratch or ‘switching streams’ as a result of lowered expectations regarding employment prospects. In fact, a third of graduates say they won’t bother looking for a graduate job in 2021, with another third opting to go straight into a non-graduate position. Eighty-two percent have either found a non-graduate job or expect to have to get one until they find a graduate position.
Maintaining financial security is a priority for many graduates in the current climate, with three quarters looking to either spend less on going out and/or planning to direct additional money into savings. And more than one in three are planning to spend less on holidays, take a second job, buy second-hand items rather than new, or live at home with their parents for longer. High performers have the opportunity to thrive in the current, more competitive environment.
Graduate employer priorities
Despite a tense job market, 39% of graduating students see an opportunity to accelerate their careers. Graduate employers agree. More than half see the opportunity for ‘the cream to rise to the top’ faster.
Graduate employers look for high-value personal attributes in the recruitment process (above high academic marks or work experience), including:
- a positive attitude
- a strong work ethic
- good soft interpersonal skills
Smaller organizations may have greater access to top talent than previously. Businesses with less than 20 employees were more likely to continue to hire at the same rate, while larger organizations are the most likely to cut back their graduate intake in 2021. This could create opportunities for graduates to find a role within SMEs and for these businesses to hire some of the nation’s brightest talent.
Despite current challenges, there is cause for cautious optimism among 2020 graduates. The majority of employers will hire as many or more graduates in 2021 as they hired in either 2020 or 2019, indicating while the graduate job market has been squeezed, it’s unlikely to be as tough as many graduates might fear.
In fact, hiring prospects for graduates are anticipated to bounce back towards pre-COVID levels by the end of 2021. The smaller portion of organizations opting not to recruit as many graduates in 2021 stated this was related to COVID-19 or overall economic conditions.
Jay Munro, Head of Career Insights at Indeed, says, “While COVID-19 has undoubtedly had an impact on the number of graduate roles available, I think there’s been an assumption that the longer-term outlook is grimmer than what the data shows. With 75% of employers expecting to hire the same number of graduates as pre-COVID levels this year, it’s understandable that graduates are feeling the pinch, however, there are some signs that the market will recover over the next 12 months.
“There is definitely a silver lining for high-performing graduates in this climate as this group are likely going to be able to accelerate their careers once they land a role. Meanwhile, SMEs hiring graduates are more well-positioned than usual to seize upon top talent.
“Flexibility remains key during this period of uncertainty and many graduates are proving themselves adaptable and resilient by seeking alternate paths to employment or venturing into extended study. The research shows that these are qualities many employers are seeking and therefore the actions we know them to be taking will put them in good stead bigger picture.”
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