Employers must support the UK’s graduates in 2021 ‘ or face creating a lost generation (14 words)
Just before Christmas, the ONS published figures showing that employment among 16 to 24 year olds is at a record new low, with more than half a million now facing joblessness due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Young people have seen the sharpest rise in joblessness over the same period, a sign some economists have warned is particular worrying, as unemployment at a young age can slow re-entry into the job market.
For students looking ahead to graduation next year, these figures simply confirm what many have feared for the past few months.
2020 was one of the most challenging years, for businesses and employees alike, but perhaps none more so than for university students and graduates. New graduates were flung into a world of work that is wholly remote, losing out on on-the-job training and bonding opportunities with new co-workers, and companies have stalled on hiring new talent.
Most students are not confident about securing a graduate role in 2021. The Bright Network Talent Tracker found that 85% feel more under pressure over their career search due to uncertainty caused by the pandemic and 65% of graduates are not confident about securing a graduate role at all. Only 1 in 5 graduates admit that the arrival of a vaccine has increased their confidence in finding a graduate role.
They know that economic recovery from coronavirus is still likely to be slow, and the knock-on effect on graduate jobs won’t be immediate, for the following reasons.
Firstly, the UK is currently lagging behind other markets economically ‘ there is a long way to go for us to catch up. The OECD thinks it is unlikely our economy will make up the 11.5% contraction we’ve seen to GDP, next year, and figures from the ONS last month show that the UK economy grew by just 0.4% in October, with output expected to shrink in November.
At the same time, we are facing a major digital skills crisis ‘ many tech employers are continuing to struggle to find qualified graduates, with the digital skills gap currently costing employers £141bn a year and Bright Network’s research showing 72% of students feel they do not have the required digital skills for the world of work.
This is even the case for STEM students, three quarters of whom (71%) are hopeful of securing a job in the UK’s £184bn tech sector. Despite the high number of STEM graduates eyeing a role in the sector, which employs more than a fifth of the workforce in the UK’s biggest cities, 2 in 5 (44%) do not feel prepared to enter the working world and a further 2 in 5 (39%) feel that a lack of previous experience will be their primary barrier to accessing jobs in the sector.
Despite these challenges, we know that undergraduates are doing all they can to invest more in their own skills to boost their attractiveness in the jobs market. 90% of them want graduate employers to support the student population with upskilling during university, and over a third are more interested in advice about how they can upskill for their future career than whether firms are even hiring right now.
We should all be celebrating the arrival of the vaccine rollout as a hugely positive step for the UK in confronting the spread of coronavirus ‘ but let’s not forget that economic recovery will take time, as employment figures show. Our graduates are an important part of this recovery, but they’ll also be the hardest hit. These latest figures should worry us, and we must prioritise upskilling and connecting young people with employment opportunities to stave off long-term joblessness and despair.
The government’s Kickstart scheme is a good first step. More than 19,000 job placements for unemployed young people have been created under the scheme, and the tens of thousands more expected in the months ahead should provide young people with some assurance that jobs exist.
But now, we need graduate employers to assure graduates that their doors are not closed, and to stem further disenchantment with the graduate jobs market. They need to be providing critical digital skills training that many young people lack, whilst they’re in study, as well as other training opportunities to ensure they’re fighting fit to enter the world of work in 2021.