Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a huge impact on the availability of graduate jobs as well as the application process - discover how there's still hope for those seeking work

How has the pandemic affected the UK jobs market?

In August 2020, it was announced that coronavirus lockdown measures had forced the UK into recession, with the economy shrinking by 20.4% between April and June - its biggest slump on record. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also revealed that UK employment fell by 220,000 during this period, the largest amount since the 2009 financial crisis.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician at the ONS, explained how younger workers aged 24 and under were among the groups of people most affected by the pandemic. 'This is concerning as it's harder for these groups to find a new job or get into a job as easily as other workers.'

As well as affecting those already employed, this uncertainty has been keenly felt by university students in their final year and about to enter the jobs market. In April, Prospects carried out a survey to explore how coronavirus had disrupted the plans of 1,202 finalists.

The research showed that nearly two-thirds of those questioned were feeling negative about their career prospects due to the COVID-19 crisis. Nearly a third of these final year students had lost job offers, with the same number having opportunities deferred or cancelled. In addition, a quarter saw their work placement or internship fall through.

What's the outlook for graduate jobs?

According to data from Adzuna, the market for graduate job openings was down 77% in May 2020 from January. They also expected more than 100 graduates to be battling it out for every position this summer.

However, while this does sound daunting, it's important to do all you can to present yourself in the best light. Graduate Coach found that 90% of graduates don't know how to write CVs, interview well, demonstrate the right employability skills, or how to find jobs that best suit their skills. So sharpening up in these areas will certainly give you an advantage over other candidates.

And while graduates will need to persevere in what's likely to be a highly competitive jobs market throughout 2020 and beyond, rest assured that leading employers are still on the lookout for talented individuals.

Student news site The Tab contacted The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers 2019/20, revealing that the likes of Aldi, Amazon, Barclays, BP, Civil Service, Lidl, RBS and Teach First are either continuing to recruit for their graduate schemes as usual, or are even increasing their intake.

Aldi's recruitment director Kelly Stokes explains how 'At Aldi we're fortunate during this time to still be recruiting for roles across our store operations, logistics departments and head office. In September, thanks to our continued popularity and expansion in the UK, we will also be opening our 2020/21 graduate season, creating 100 new positions on our competitive Graduate Area Manager Programme.'

Another major employer Amazon has also confirmed that it's still looking to fill a number of graduate positions in the near future. In her role as student programmes campus attraction and engagement lead for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Amazon Web Services (AWS), Grace Acquah is well-placed to advise graduate jobseekers during this pandemic.

'We know that graduates will be entering a challenging careers environment in the next few months as the UK responds to the ongoing crisis,' says Grace. 'However, many organisations are still actively recruiting, and the value of graduate recruitment has not changed. Graduates are essential hires in any business, as they will help to shape the future of the company.'

Grace works with graduates at Amazon and AWS from the first stage of their application through to the interview process and beyond. Her team works with applicants at all levels, from interns through to undergraduates and postgraduates, including MBAs, with those recruited getting to work on the latest technologies.

'For many employers, innovation in areas such as digital transformation and cloud computing will be key to adapting to the COVID-19 crisis. In that sense, graduates can play an important role in bringing new ideas to the table.

'At Amazon, like many other businesses in the technology and innovation sector, we're committed to our student programmes. They continue to play a vital role in how we recruit and build talent for the future.'

How have business and recruitment practices changed?

The Institute of Student Employers' (ISE) Covid-19: Global impacts on graduate recruitment (July 2020) survey explained how on campus activities such as jobs fairs, interviews and assessment centres are either being moved completely online, or into a blended format that combines both online and face-to-face methods.

If you're wondering what the new business environment and recruitment process may look like for graduates, Grace has set out what Amazon has done in response to challenges such as social distancing and remote working.

For a start, Amazon has continued to offer its usual experiences for applicants, to help them stay connected while remaining socially distanced. These include virtual engagement events, coffee mornings, meet-and-greet sessions, plus learning delivered through its communications service Amazon Chime.

'We know that these interactions with Amazon and AWS, whether virtual or face-to-face, can be an invaluable experience for graduates,' says Grace. 'Our ambition is to support, engage, and upskill these applicants.'

The global technology company is already seeing the benefits of working virtually, with Grace explaining how video calls can be more timely and efficient, while making the application process more accessible.

With virtual recruitment, applicants spend less time travelling and more time preparing for video interviews, which makes things much easier for those living outside of major cities. She adds, 'This gives us a brilliant opportunity to engage people from a broader range of communities.'

Aldi has also adapted the way that it recruits new graduates, reveals Kelly. 'Group assessments have been replaced with a one-to-one video interview instead - these are a great opportunity for candidates to share their previous experience and showcase their fantastic skillset to us.'

Research from cloud computing company Bullhorn revealed how recruitment agencies are investing in and utilising technology such as video interviewing and video conferencing solutions for their businesses. Nearly two-thirds of those questioned for its COVID-19 Impact Survey expected remote jobs to be more common post-COVID-19 with more than half anticipating that contactless recruiting will become more prevalent.

Where can I look for jobs?

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) partnered with TotalJobs to produce the Quarterly Recruitment Outlook (July 2020), with the jobs website noting a 30% month-on-month increase in the number of jobs being advertised. The most vacancies were found in IT, followed by logistics and social care. There were also increases in industries benefiting from the easing of lockdown, including retail, travel and hospitality.

Sophie Phillipson, founder of graduate support site HelloGrads explains how jobseekers can focus their efforts on sectors that are thriving, such as health, food services, and information and communication.

And if you're struggling to find permanent positions, it's important to make the most of any work experience or voluntary opportunities you come across. 'The hiring rate will help you gauge where the work experience opportunities are likely to be,' advises Sophie. 'Even if you want to end up in a hard-hit sector like events or hospitality, you can still build up valuable transferable skills by gaining experience elsewhere.'

In its A Plan for Jobs 2020 policy paper, the government has announced it is launching a new Kickstart scheme to create more job opportunities for young people, including students and graduates. The fund has been set up to subsidise six-month work placements for those aged 16 to 24, on Universal Credit, and who are at the greatest risk of long-term unemployment.

As already mentioned, many employer graduate schemes are still running and being advertised in line with the usual application dates. Kelly advises new graduates, those going into their final year of university, or those in managerial positions looking for a career change, that they can all apply for Aldi's Area Manager Programme via Aldi Recruitment. If you can't find any roles available in your preferred area, you can register your interest and be notified once the window opens again in September.

As you look for jobs advertised online - for instance, by using the Prospects graduate jobs search - don't forget to make speculative job applications to employers you'd like to work for and use social media for job hunting.

Grace reveals how many organisations, including Amazon and AWS, are committed to engaging graduates on social media platforms they already use, such as Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

She adds, 'We use those channels to share jobs announcements and opportunities, as well as materials such as videos, employee profiles, and testimonial that help to educate graduates about the options available.'

To explore Amazon's full range of global career opportunities, visit amazon.jobs.

What can I do if I've been made redundant?

If you've lost your job since the pandemic began, be sure to read your redundancy rights at GOV.UK.

You can also get free and impartial advice from MoneySavingExpert.com's Redundancy help guide, with many questions answered relating to COVID-19. Find out if you're due any redundancy pay and what to do if you think the decision hasn't been made fairly.

What if I'm self-employed?

Just under a quarter of the UK workforce is self-employed with an estimated third of these being graduates. Discover how coronavirus has affected the self-employed and find out what support is available at this time and how to approach starting a business.

Are there any other options to consider?

  • Work experience/Volunteering - If you're struggling to find a job, you can always boost your skillset and make the use of your free time by considering remote volunteering and virtual work experience offered by a specialist such as Studenteer or Virtual Internships.
  • Study - The Prospects survey found that nearly a third of respondents are now contemplating further study, especially with job offers falling through. Explore Masters degrees or if you're not ready to commit to a postgraduate degree, you could consider MOOCs (massive open online courses). For instance, you could register for the free three-week 'How to get a graduate job' course on FutureLearn, which has been created in partnership with Graduate Coach. This has been designed to help individuals better understand the recruitment process and prepare for the world of work. Alternatively, you could sign up for MoneySavingExpert.com's new MSE Academy of Money adult financial education course, developed alongside the Open University. These six two-hour sessions on key aspects of personal finance provides useful, tangible skills with a formal qualification.
  • Online jobs - With a growing number of roles that can be carried out from home, now is a great opportunity to explore this area. For example, if your gap year plans were cancelled, there's still the possibility of completing an 120-hour TEFL certificate and getting to earn some money by teaching English online through a provider such as The TEFL Org.

Find out more

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