Graduating during Covid-19: Where do we go from here?

Graduating

“Congratulations, graduating class of 2020. Your journey through life starts n…” [404 page not found. Try again?] Well, that was a fun online graduation, not! Throughout all the hubbub of the pandemic, there has been a flurry of activity and news regarding how companies will cope with switching to an online working system, but what about new members hoping to join that workforce? 

Graduating in Ireland today

As is normal with graduates, most already had future plans laid out long before they thought of donning that all-important graduation cap. However, the unprecedented arrival of COVID-19 saw the cancellation of visas, au pair programs, and other experience-building opportunities. Not to mention that many internships were put on the back burner as businesses frantically scaled back the size of their workforce in preparation for the worst.

Yes, the pandemic has been tough on everyone, but new graduates have been put into a uniquely awful situation. I should know, I’m one of them. You cannot find work and, the longer you wait, the more you risk forgetting those skills that you learned in college.

As it stands right now, if we class those in receipt of Covid payments as unemployed along with those already on the live register, then, according to the latest figures from April 2021, 61% of young people between the ages of 16-24 are currently unemployed in Ireland. This shockingly high result shows how difficult it has become to find stable employment or even an opportunity to get their foot on the first rung of the career ladder. 

It also means that if you graduated in 2020 and have been unable to find suitable work, the competition then doubles in 2021 as a fresh batch of graduates is added to the mix. The closure of pubs and restaurants along with other hospitality and retail sectors means that young people have also had no way of supporting themselves whilst they search for jobs more in line with their qualifications. 

Working from home

How the online world of work changed things for graduates?

“Work from home”, three words that have become so normal now, it’s hard to think of how we lived before all this. The shift from in-person work to online work has changed things dramatically for young graduates and comes with a new set of pros and cons.

On the one hand, the upside of graduating in a digital age means that, for many young professionals, like those in computer science, I.T, and other technology sectors, they would have been sitting at a computer in an office anyway. Therefore, the transition to working from home has been relatively easy in comparison to others. 

However, the lack of social contact, the increase in screen time, and the reality of having to continue living at home with parents is not just demoralising, it’s downright depressing. In fact, a study carried out by Trinity College Dublin in December 2020, found that 48% of 20-year-olds had elevated symptoms of depression as a result of the pandemic. 

Keeping in mind as well that not every profession can be switched over so easily. For example, graduates who had hoped to start work as a physiotherapist, event coordinator, beautician, or any other profession that requires face-to-face contact, are forced to simply wait out the pandemic until measures are lifted. 

Online scams plaguing young graduates

The internet is a glorious thing and, without it, we would have lost our minds a long time ago during the first lockdown in Ireland. However, it can also be a deceptive tool in the wrong hands. The rise of false advertising, online scams, and freelancing has made it easier to manipulate young graduates into working ridiculously long hours for low wages or, sometimes, for no pay at all. 

The reason for graduates accepting any and every job that is offered to them, no matter the conditions, could be a result of underlying anxiety. Think about it, you fill out application after application only to be told weeks later, or not at all, that you have not been successful. You feel a little depressed and are sick of scrolling through job sites so you stop looking. However, you then feel guilty for not looking and panic when a friend or relative inquires as to what you’re up to these days.

This cycle of applications and rejections can play havoc with a young graduate’s morale and mental health and also waste valuable time that could have been better spent upskilling. The requirements, and additional skills and qualifications that are expected of young graduates nowadays have seen many turn to freelancing. Although a popular type of employment amongst young people and one with many benefits, freelancing also has some particularly risky disadvantages, such as workers not being protected by a union or set working hours. 

What happens after COVID-19?

All of this begs the question as to what will the future hold regarding employment levels and entry-level opportunities for young graduates in Ireland? Unfortunately, only time will tell, but young graduates should use this time, more than ever, to figure out a plan for when restrictions end, and by that I don’t mean a holiday, I mean a start-your-life plan. 

Bear in mind that there will be economic downturns occurring in most countries and so the race is on to make sure that you are as qualified as possible for when those job applications open up, both at home and abroad. Use this invaluable time to upskill, do an online course, check out Linkedin and see what jobs are in demand or which languages will help you to get hired. This is not to put more pressure on young graduates but to simply prepare them for the coming storm. 

Light at the end of the tunnel Light at the end of the tunnel

On a more positive note, despite all the doom and gloom of the current situation, graduates can rest easy knowing that the pandemic will not last forever. It has also been a blessing for those of us who are clueless as to what career avenue we want to go down and, for now, graduates have time to mull things over. Or perhaps the lockdown has also reminded us that life is short and has given others the courage to set up an online business, or pursue a hidden talent or dream. Either way, whatever your situation, you can relax knowing that you are not alone in this. 

 

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Grace Duffy

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