As newly graduated university students are entering one of the worst job markets since the Great Depression, many are feeling anxious, even hopeless. The current crisis could potentially take recent graduates years to recover from, and the fear of a financially insecure future may lead students to question their choice of studies. However, there is hope. The amount of long-term harm to new workers depends on how quickly the economy recovers, and we must put in a joint effort to contain the pandemic. 

Recent graduates are entering a terrible job market

New graduates are joining the job market in exceptionally tough times. However, competition was already very high prior to the crisis, as more and more people are graduating with degrees in higher education. Indeed, simply graduating from university and getting a job is not as easy as it might have been for previous generations

Today, employers typically require working experience on top of a university degree, making it difficult for many newly graduated individuals to get started. Yet no one expected things to get this bad. 

With the global economy having gone into a severe recession and employers freezing recruitment, we have seen a surge in unemployment, especially affecting young people, including recent graduates. In Sweden, unemployment among academics (referring to individuals with at least two years of higher education) has risen to above 6%. Individuals with degrees in the humanities and art experience the highest unemployment rates at about 12%, an increase with 3.5% from the previous year. 

Among OECD countries, the impact on jobs in the first months of the pandemic was ten times bigger than that of the first months of the 2008 financial crisis. Yet, even though the 2008 financial crisis was smaller than the current one, there was still a reduction in the employment rate of recent graduates during the following five years across Europe, until a rebound took place. 

Additionally, because hiring tends to slow down or halt during financial crises, graduates that have recently entered the labour market risk getting stuck in underqualified jobs with lower earnings. Out of necessity, individuals who find work oftentimes take on jobs that don’t match their skills and pay less. Before the economy bounces back and people manage to find work within their preferred fields, time goes by. Unfortunately, the economic crisis of today could thus take 2020’s graduates ten years to recover from, according to research

Woman using laptop (Photo by: WocinTech Chat, Flickr)

Easy to feel hopeless

Understandably, the situation makes newly graduated university students feel anxious, stressed and perhaps hopeless. While the process of applying to hundreds of jobs resulting in only a few interviews is exhausting on its own, many are also stuck at home and isolated due to lockdown measures. Many have also gotten jobs delayed or had contracts cancelled as the pandemic has evolved. 

In Sweden, students are fortunate to not have to pay for their education, but in several countries high tuition fees result in large debt which adds additional economic pressure. In England, tuition fees alone are £9,250 ($12,000) per year for home students. In the US, room, board, and tuition at a private university cost on average $48,510 a year. Non-EU international students pursuing their education in Sweden also pay high fees. Thus one can easily understand the frustration and disappointment of having to settle for underqualified and lower paying jobs. 

Did I choose the right education?

The daunting job market may lead students to ask themselves whether they pursued the right education. While learning for the sake of learning can be fulfilling, it is reasonable that most of us need our degrees to pay off financially, especially given the aforementioned costs. 

In Sweden, individuals with degrees in the humanities and arts have taken a significant hit during the current crisis. Generally, degrees within fields such as the social sciences and humanities are portrayed as less worthy and more insecure than degrees within STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), which are believed to guarantee jobs. Whilst it is true that an era of tremendous technological change requires a workforce of graduates in STEM, and that the demand for these workers potentially makes going into STEM a more secure choice, other degrees can also pay off. In fact, soft skills and critical thinking enhanced by a social science or humanities degree may have strong market value. 

LinkedIn’s research on the most sought after job skills by employers in 2019 shows that creativity, persuasion, and collaboration were the three most-wanted “soft skills”, and people management was one of the top five “hard skills”. Naturally, these skills can be acquired in degrees outside of the social sciences and humanities, but few courses are as heavy on reading, writing, speaking, and critical thinking as the ones within these fields.

One could also argue that as computers increasingly replace humans in different fields of work, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important as they provide complementary skills. A recent study of 1,700 people from 30 countries further found that the majority of leadership positions are held by individuals with either a social science or humanities degree. This was especially true for leaders under 45 years of age, while leaders above 45 were more likely to have studied STEM.

Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused companies to freeze hiring in most sectors, and so whether you have a degree in the social sciences and humanities or in STEM, everyone is affected. It is important to remember that you are most likely to do well when you do something that you find enjoyable.

Students at graduation (Photo by: StockSnap, Pixabay)

Light at the end of the tunnel

As newly graduated students struggle to stay optimistic, one must remember that the economy and the job market will recover. This recovery relies heavily on the course of the pandemic, where the pace of the vaccine rollout is one crucial factor. It is predicted that, in a baseline scenario, global economic activity will recover to 4% in 2021 and 3,8% in 2022. In a downside scenario however, where the pandemic is not contained promptly, the economy would not rebound until 2022. The amount of long-term harm that the current conditions will do to new workers thus depends on how quickly the economy bounces back. 

Unfortunately, marginalized groups who are disproportionately affected by the crisis will likely experience larger difficulties than others with recovering financially. Thus, while hopeful news of a recovering economy in the coming years may be a relief for many, it is important to acknowledge the fact that there are people who are facing a less promising future. Serious effort ought therefore be put in supporting these groups. 

There are also certain concrete things one can do to improve their chances on the job market, according to experts. Take the opportunity to think about the skills you will need in your future career that can potentially be learned and accumulated through different avenues. Get organised, have an updated LinkedIn profile and a professional looking CV. Try to adjust your mindset as well, you are going to get rejected but it is not personal. Of course, you should also stay resilient. Also, you might have to settle for an under qualified job, but still aim to find something that to some extent is directed towards your degree. 

Finally, even though things are hard right now, remember that they will get better. The more we work together to contain the pandemic, the faster the economy will recover. As humans, we persist, and we can move forward. Most importantly, remember you are not alone. 

Ellen Löfgren