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 in 2021 and beyond

How has the pandemic affected the UK jobs market?

Back in August 2020, it was revealed that coronavirus lockdown measures had forced the UK into recession - its biggest slump on record. Employment also fell by the largest amount since the 2009 financial crisis.

While there's now cause for optimism in 2021, due to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the latest unemployment figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that there are still hard times ahead to get back to previous economic levels.

According to the government's spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, UK unemployment may reach 2.2 million by the end of 2021 - affecting 6.5% of the population. It was also revealed how just under a seventh (14.3%) of those unemployed were aged 16-24 - an increase of 52,000 people compared to January to March 2020.

What's the outlook for graduate jobs?

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has produced the Quarterly Recruitment Outlook for the first three months of 2021, with the jobs website noting that 40% of businesses were now looking to recruit, compared with the pre-pandemic 2019 average of 55%. Firms within the construction sector were among the most likely to take on new staff over the next three months while retail and wholesaling were the least likely.

The annual Student Development Survey by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) has found that the UK's leading graduate employers have either stabilised or increased their recruitment in 2021.

The survey found that nearly half (48%) of recruiters are employing the same number of graduates as the previous year, while over a third (36%) are actually hiring more. In terms of work experience, over half (56%) of employers are taking on the same number of interns as last year, with a quarter (24%) hiring more.

Despite this more positive outlook, Stephen Isherwood, chief executive at the ISE, did offer a word of caution. 'Employers are optimistic that we're reaching the end of the pandemic, but not that the economic crisis is over,' he explained. 'However, early indicators show that the market is on the upturn and there will be more employment opportunities for young people this year. While the jobs market remains tough, students need to keep working on their skills and engaging with employers.'

Therefore, while it's expected that more graduates than ever will be battling it out for each available position with the top firms, 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.

Which graduate employers are recruiting in 2021?

As the ISE research showed, many leading employers are still on the lookout for talented individuals, with Aldi, Amazon, Barclays, BP, Civil Service, Lidl, RBS and Teach First among the employers either continuing to recruit for their graduate schemes as usual, or are 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. Thanks to our continued popularity and expansion in the UK, we were still able to open our 2020/21 graduate season last September, 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.

'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 ISE survey also explained how student recruitment and development is likely to continue operating differently from how it did in the past.

While the pandemic forced many on-campus activities such as jobs fairs and lectures/seminars to move online, recruiters also had to rely on technology for their recruitment practices.

Employer interviews and assessment centres either moved completely online, or into a blended format combining both online and face-to-face methods - with this shift set to become more permanent as employers realise the benefits of these new working models.

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.

Amazon offers virtual engagement events, coffee mornings, meet-and-greet sessions, plus learning delivered through its communications service Amazon Chime.

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.

This webinar featured in the Prospects Future You: Live event in November 2020.

Where can I look for jobs?

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 Plan for Jobs initiative, the government announced a new Kickstart scheme to create more job opportunities for young people, including students and graduates. The fund was 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 Aldi's Area Manager Programme is still running and you can apply via Aldi Recruitment.

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.'

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 - Explore Masters degrees or 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 helps individuals better understand the recruitment process and prepares you for the world of work. Alternatively, MoneySavingExpert.com's MSE Academy of Money adult financial education course, developed alongside the Open University, provides six two-hour sessions on key aspects of personal finance.
  • 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 you were planning a gap year, you could consider completing an 120-hour TEFL certificate and earning some money by teaching English online through a provider such as The TEFL Org.

Find out more

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