Nearly half of university students unprepared for employment

June, 2021

The lack of work experience due to the pandemic has left students feeling unprepared for employment - many are looking to boost their skills on leaving education or change careers, reports Prospects at Jisc

Prospects, part of Jisc, surveyed more than 7,000 students and graduates for its Early Careers Survey 2021 to find out how the pandemic is impacting their career decisions and experiences.

When asked about how prepared they were for getting a job or apprenticeship, nearly half (45%) of university students said they felt unprepared - more so than college/sixth form students (36%).

The majority (96%) of respondents said they faced barriers when looking for jobs or apprenticeships. University students said that having the required work experience was their biggest barrier, followed by a lack of opportunities to apply for and having the necessary skills.

Prospects' recent internship report showed that just 17% of students had undertaken work experience in the last year. Similarly, the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) reported that employers recruited 29% fewer interns and 25% fewer placement students.

Students are keen to develop their skills further when they leave education. When looking for jobs or apprenticeships, students said they valued training and development above anything else, including salary.

The pandemic has also left students feeling uncertain about what to do after education. More than a third (38%) of university students said they were uncertain about their plans - more so than college students (28%). For university students, the cancelling or postponement of plans due to restrictions on travel featured heavily. They described a swathe of study abroad opportunities, offers of internships and teaching jobs abroad that had all been withdrawn.

Young people are taking steps to change their career plans to reflect the changing context. Nearly half (45%) of graduates who had found employment since graduating in 2020 said they had changed their career plans since the start of the pandemic, along with 36% of university finalists.

Many respondents said they had been inspired by people who were actively involved in supporting the pandemic response and were looking at moves into healthcare or teaching. Others said they wanted to escape industries that were struggling, such as travel and hospitality, and careers where they no longer saw a bright future. Of those who knew which industry they would like to work in, the top choice for college and university graduates was healthcare.

Following graduating from a Bachelors degree at University of the Arts London, Mickayla was unable to gain the relevant work experience to progress her career and is now studying a level 4 diploma at the Fashion Retail Academy.

She explained, 'I was offered a job at the National Theatre as a trainee tailor in the costume department in March 2020 just before the pandemic, but was unable to begin working because of the pandemic. As I need more work experience in tailoring to progress and get a job, I have had to turn away from that career path in light of the impracticality of work shadowing. I therefore decided to study garment technology from September 2020, as I couldn't get work in any field during the pandemic. Generally, garment technology work has been stable in spite of the pandemic, so I hope to gain employment in this area after my course finishes.'

Jayne Rowley, executive director for Jisc student services, said, 'The lack of work experience has left students feeling unprepared and uncertain about their careers. However, there are lots of things that students will have been doing to develop such as helping out neighbours and studying remotely. Resilience, communication and flexibility are all skills that the pandemic has brought out and that employers value. We need to help young people identify what they have been doing in a way that will boost their confidence and enable them to progress their careers. We urge students to visit university careers services for professional guidance.

'Employers shouldn't expect to see the classic things like work experience on CVs this year. Their expectations need to reflect the actual experiences of students during the pandemic. This is the Zoom generation and they're gearing up for a digital workplace.'

Prospects is expanding its Future You programme in 2021 with more events, content, videos, webinars and podcasts as well as more virtual opportunities to bring students and graduates together with employers and careers advisers.

Download the Prospects Early Careers Survey 2021. Careers advice as well as the Job Match online career planning tool can be found at

Media enquiries

Clare Tregaskis, Prospects and Jisc Student Services,, 07792 429227

Prospects Early Careers Survey 2021

Users of were surveyed between 12 January and 26 February 2021 to find out about their career plans. The analysis in the report is based on responses from 7,189 people, including 2,217 university students and 1,059 college/sixth form students.

About Prospects

Prospects has worked at the heart of higher education for nearly 50 years. Part of Jisc Student Services, the directorate collaborates with government, universities and employers to improve student and graduate career outcomes through information, guidance and opportunities. It includes, which is visited by 2.1 million students and graduates each month, Prospects Luminate and the UK's official postgraduate course database. Jisc Student Services also manages Prospects Hedd degree verification and fraud services.

About Jisc

Jisc's vision is for the UK to be a world leader in technology for education and research. It owns and operates the super-fast national research and education network, Janet, with built-in cyber security protection.  Jisc also provides technology solutions for members (colleges, universities and research centres) and customers (public sector bodies), helps members save time and money by negotiating sector-wide deals and provides advice and practical assistance on digital technology. Jisc is funded by the UK higher and further education and research funding bodies and member institutions.

For more information, contact, or 07918 562869. Alternatively, use or 07443 983571.

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