Last week, a 30 minute documentary aired on BBC Panorama called Has Covid Stolen My Future? The programme interviewed young people and graduates across the country who can find no work or who have had paid traineeships taken away.
Unemployment is sweeping the nation but it is disproportionately affecting young people. 156,000 fewer 16- to 24-year-olds are employed, compared to three months ago. According to the recruitment agency CV Library, the number of graduate jobs being advertised has fallen by 60.3% this year. Jobs advertised in marketing fell by 84%, while roles in construction and administration both dropped by 70%. And, of course, the service industry, which last year employed 1 in 5 recent graduates, has taken a colossal hit.
For those who have spent the last three to five years working towards university degrees, this arid job landscape is quite a shock to the system. Generation Z (the cohort of young people born after 1995) is famously stressed and exam-obsessed. According to a 2019 study in The Economist, Generation Z is considerably better behaved and less hedonistic than the previous two generations. Young people worry more about exam results than binge drinking, drug taking and unplanned pregnancy. The only thing they worry about more than exam results is worrying itself (or anxiety). They are so hardworking, such exam-nuts that 50% of them now go to university. Today’s young people are “kind of boring” according to Shoko Yoneyama, an expert on teenagers at Adelaide University.
Young people worry more about exam results than binge drinking, drug taking and unplanned pregnancy. The only thing they worry about more than exam results is worrying itself.
As a member of this boring, stressed out group, I can affirm there was a doctrine among us. We really believed that good A-levels followed by a good degree guaranteed a comfortable life of employment and freedom. Of course, this was never entirely true but right now it seems near entirely untrue. A survey taken by Prospects, the UK’s leading provider of advice and opportunities to graduates, revealed that 30% of students that graduated this summer have since lost their job, seen graduate job offers rescinded or internships cancelled.
Olivia, 23, has a first class degree in History from the University of Manchester. She went on to complete a law conversion. She has applied to 52 law-related jobs and internships since completing the conversion in July. “You start to quite like the employers who have the time to tell you that you’ve been rejected”, she says. She did however find a job working in a pub, though “a less nice pub” than the one she worked at before investing £70,000 of borrowed money in her education.
Leo, 22, graduated from Cambridge with a first class degree in History. He does have a job, working in Property PR. “My boss told me that normally for my position there are 300 applicants over a period of a few weeks. This year they had 1,100 applicants in less than 24 hours, many of them way over-qualified for the position. I got it [the job] because I had done work experience there before the pandemic. That matters – if you’re going to be on Zooms all the time. Nice to know the person on the screen. I’ve got very lucky, I’ve seen friends who did just as well as me at uni who are now struggling.”
Am I even qualified to sell a cucumber?
When Ruby, 23, graduated from Bristol this June, she found work in a pub. Then, shortly after the ten o’clock rule was introduced, she was let go along with three other colleagues. “I have no idea how many jobs I’ve applied for. It’s very competitive out there. I saw an advertisement this morning for a job in a greengrocer. It said do not apply if you have less than two years experience in Sales. So … am I even qualified to sell a cucumber? I’ll apply anyway, obviously”.
Joey, 23, a UCL graduate is “burying his head in the sands of academia”, studying for a Master’s degree at Oxford University. When asked about the situation that he and his highly employable friends are facing, he says that, like him, many of them have chosen Postgraduate degrees. Most of those who haven’t spend their days updating their LinkedIn profiles and their evenings re-sharing tweets from multi-millionaire entrepreneurs “on how much they absolutely love to fail!”. “One pal of mine did actually get a job after emailing this company 6 times. He only heard back when he sent them a 7th email saying “right so I’ve scheduled my interview for this Friday’”.
Perhaps, watching their carefully planned futures implode, the Covid-19 generation is learning a vital lesson. All the years of worrying, behaving well, revising and none of us thought to prepare for this infuriating aberration coming along and wiping out 60% of employment opportunities. As a generation, we might turn out more zen than others, learning the boring way that life is unpredictable. Professor of Economics at Bristol University Simon Burgess urges graduates and young people not to despair. “It might be a number of years before things brighten up. But they will.” In the meantime, perhaps we should keep sending emails into the ether, scheduling our own interviews with unresponsive strangers who don’t want to hire us and … trying to enjoy ourselves? Before we know it, we could be waking up at 7am everyday. Anything is possible, it turns out.
Panda La Terriere is a freelance writer from London.
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