The lack of work experience due to the pandemic has left students feeling unprepared for employment, with many looking to boost their skills on leaving education or change careers, reports Prospects' early careers survey 2021.
Prospects, part of Jisc, surveyed more than 7,000 students and graduates to find out how the pandemic has impacted 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 shows that just 17% of students had undertaken work experience in the last year. Similarly, the Institute of Student Employers reports 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described a swathe of study-abroad opportunities, offers of internships and overseas teaching jobs that had all been withdrawn.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.
After graduating with a bachelor's 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.
“I was offered a job at the National Theatre as a trainee tailor in the costume department in March 2020, but I 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 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, Prospects, says:
“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.”