A Stressful Ordeal: Young People, COVID-19 and Career Development

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Finding employment is stressful enough at the best of times. Yet for recent graduates, their future plans are in flux, as they face a job market indelibly warped by Covid-19. Aino Lappalainen spoke to young people about their experiences.

COVID-19 has hit the economy hard, which has resulted in the rise of unemployment and uncertainty in the job market. For university students, recent graduates and young professionals, this has meant that lots of opportunities have been cancelled. 

Many have put their plans for the future on hold or completely re-evaluated their career goals. According to the Guardian, 61% of employers have had to cancel at least some of their placements for both students and graduates. This has a devastating impact on young people’s ability to gather practical experience and thus will have long-lasting effects on their employment later.

For many, the pandemic has intensified the feelings of pressure and worry they have over their career development. The job market was competitive even before, and now the lack of work experience has made it even harder for young people to enter their chosen fields. In some cases, there might not even be a healthy industry to get into. This is the case for Jess*, who is nervous about the status of the design industry and the work prospects it can offer her in the future as a graphic design graduate.

“I’m far more nervous about the idea of entering the workforce as a graduate and beginning to question whether going to university was the right idea. Should I have done an apprenticeship instead?”

-Jess

Feeling uncertain about the future can be extremely stressful. Similar worries and feelings also surface when talking to young professionals. Georgia, who has previously faced the high requirements many employers have for young people, is now questioning the status of the UK job market.

“Personally, I am more sceptical about the sustainability of the UK job market now. There are more highly skilled and qualified young professionals entering the workplace and an unstable, meagre offering of employment positions in their fields, so I worry how we will all find a work in another recession with little governmental support.” 

-Georgia

She has already been frustrated with the job market as unpaid internships, disregard for vulnerable workers and lack of support from the government disadvantage anyone without substantial financial backing. Her main worry is increasing income inequality, as disadvantaged workers and industries are left to fend for themselves in the aftermath of the pandemic. As out-of-work claims in the UK have more than doubled since March, the real impact of COVID-19 on the careers of young people will be revealed later.

For many students, this will mean stepping into a demanding workforce with less experience and navigating a healing economy rather than focusing on their dreams and goals. For fourth-year student Intesar, the pandemic has caused the cancellation of placements and steps backwards in plans for further studies.

“I was thinking of intercalating in a Masters, and I needed to make sure my grades improved to have a fighting chance of applying. I had a lot of research projects laid out. The pandemic really stunted the ability to enjoy the placements and see patients. I loved seeing patients and now I could not.”

-Intesar

All three of the interviewees agree that COVID-19 should guide employers towards more accessible and lenient criteria as they start to recruit students and young professionals again.

Professional support and understanding of the lack of experience many graduates and final year students will have is essential in building the workforce back up and lifting the economy. The pandemic has highlighted the diverse opportunities of remote work and other flexible ways of working, which have been previously ignored by many employers. To Georgia, this has had a significant impact on her work-related stress as well as her ASD symptoms.

“In my personal experience my work-related stress regarding commute planning and social masking has gone down noticeably, and I suffer less autistic meltdowns at home as well, so I know that remote work suits me, but I acknowledge that it is not safe, productive or good for everyone. I think employers looking to restructure their workforce post-Covid19 need to consider the skills and wellbeing of their employees first to be successful, where would people be best suited and work with us from there.”

-Georgia
Undergraduates graduate from Bristol University
Credit: The Guardian: Panacea Pictures/Alamy

In line with the high requirements of the job market, many young people have put much pressure on themselves to gain experience early on. Ambition to be successful brings with it the need to find the best opportunities which might be tiring and extremely stressful. For Jess, this has meant slowing herself down in terms of planning the future and focussing more on the current.

“I’ve definitely been thinking about how to make myself more marketable once I become a graduate. I’ve been broadening my horizons through teaching myself programming languages and researching more into front-end development roles, so I don’t find I only fit in one box once I enter the working world and it’s definitely helped my career-related worries. I’ve become more realistic with my goals.”

-Jess

With all the challenges and societal discussions COVID-19 has brought forward, young people must find support and help in the early steps of their careers. Universities play a huge role in this as their career centres adapt to support their students in a changing economy. Still, there are new efforts that can be set up to help. Having contacts in the job market and peer-support from other young people has helped Jess, Intesar and Georgia forward in their respective situations.

“I feel it would be good if there was an academic fellowship leader in our University for all questions related to [career support]. However, I am fortunate that I have contact with some older [students] who did get into the programme. I would get more support from Twitter or Instagram by finding individuals who have done the programme before. They know the right people to ask for help,”

Intesar

The bottom line is that if the needs of young people entering the workforce are ignored, it could have drastic effects on the future of the labour market. Now, more than ever, there is a need to train and cherish a new generation of skilled workers, who are more than willing to learn and adapt. Accessibility will continue to be one of the fundamental challenges young people face at the start of their careers. Even with the pandemic, young people have the ambition, the skills and the motivation to become valuable members of the working force. They just need to be given the opportunities to do so. Georgia emphasises the need for change in the job market in the light of the pandemic.

I don’t want to go back to business as usual, we can be greener and kinder as a workforce in the 21st century, so let’s see what we can build out of a travesty.”

Header image credit: graduate coach