Lost generation? Meet the students graduating into the Covid-19 recession

Despite high unemployment. the class of 2020 remains optimistic and open to new ways of working

Sitting at home and seeing your photo loom on screen when your name is called out is far from the pomp and celebration of a traditional graduation ceremony. You could watch in your tracksuit.

Yet, many students graduating in recent weeks have opted to climb into hired gowns with demand as robust as ever, according to Jimmy Callaghan, of Callaghan Robe Makers.

Until the pandemic hit, this was a generation with more choices than ever before. Now, many of those options have dried up. So, what awaits them and how are they feeling?

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Initially, Clodagh O' Keeffe, from Rathmines, who graduated from information & social computing and sociology, was not excited about her graduation and reluctant to hire the gown.

“In the days leading up to it, social pressure piled on and I changed my mind and decided to mark it properly. I went out for dinner with my parents, it was their first meal out since lockdown, and we had great fun,” she says.

When her original plan post-graduation disintegrated, she was feeling bleak, until, unexpectedly, some good news arrived.

“I was supposed to do a J-1 in New York this summer... When my waitressing job through college was not offered to me I was anxious. I thought there would be little hope but decided to be brave and dedicated myself to applying for a paid internship. I directly emailed a company I liked and was shocked when it worked out”.

At the start of September, O'Keeffe started working for Core, a marketing communications company, remotely at home, which she says is much easier than she would have thought. She has yet to meet her colleagues in person and hopefully from October will be able to go into the office.

Many students are by- passing the job market to take refuge in further study. Marcus Ryan, 22, from Foxrock, who graduated with a BA in economics from UCD, is one of them.

"Some of my friends had set up internships over the summer and had their contracts rescinded which made me think there might be a recession this year and it's better to do further study at the Smurfit Business School – even though I am unsure how much will be online," he says.

His parents insisted on making a fuss on his graduation day, and though before it happened he viewed the virtual ceremony as “a weird one and a bit of an anti-climax” it worked out nicely. His mum even rooted out her old degree for the snaps.

Trinity students graduate in November and Gabriel Ogundipe, from Coolock, is hoping, when he receives his degree in management science & information Systems Studies, for a campus affair. Like many, the arrival of Covid-19 saw the plan he had in place scuppered.

"My scholarship at Notre Dame university in Indiana fell through in June when international students were told they could not go over. I had turned down other grad jobs to take this offer, and some friends had their start dates pushed back to November or not confirmed, so I panicked, but then found something quickly".

After a week looking non-stop on Linkedin and putting in key search words, Gabriel came across an associate role with checkout.com – a financial tech company based in London.

“They sent me a Mac and set me up working from home and so far I’m managing ; there is a lot of Zoom and messaging so you do feel part of it, even if the constant communication can get a bit much.

“I think my generation will find it easier to work like this, for a few months anyway – but we do miss the social side. The office is open in London for those who voluntarily want to go in. A few friends moved over last week so I would not rule out a move in the near future. For now it’s okay to work from Dublin and save the rent”.

So, were Clodagh and Gabriel some of the lucky ones or can graduates expect more of a setback?

A large body of research has found those entering the labour market during recessions tend to have lower earnings and prospects for years after – an effect called “scarring”.

A UK study found a 4 per cent increase in unemployment leads to a 10 per cent decrease in the probability of being in paid work on leaving education. These negative impacts can last for up to a decade. However, the impact from an unique shock like coronavirus is tricky to predict.

Dr Seamus McGuinness, of the ESRI, says the nature of any scarring will depend how long it takes to return to positive growth – which we can’t tell right now because the current situation is hard to model.

He says it will be tricky for graduates to enter badly hit sectors such as hairdressing, accommodation, real estate, and food services but these tend to be highly vocational with many PLC qualifiers now likely to study further.

There are bright spots. McGuinness points out that many sectors employing graduates such as ICT, legal services, health, education, pharmaceuticals, engineering, professional services etc were much less affected which suggests job opportunities will still be there, but not at the levels of previous years.

"Typically when unemployment increases in Ireland, migration acts as a safety valve with many young graduates seeking employment abroad, this option is no longer open to new qualifiers. Remaining in education will be a central strategy for many," he adds.

In times of uncertainty the public sector is appealing and there are jobs up for grabs. Virtual interviewing and working is going on across all levels which could benefit those living outside Dublin who may initially work from home and dodge large rents.

It is a strange time for those beginning their careers from bedrooms. Hopefully the impact to the economy will not be enduring. In the meantime it is useful for the class of 2020 to keep in mind that, like a virtual graduation, often things work out better than expected and in a career every job leads to something else.

Six ways to boost your chances of getting a job
Pamela Devins, career development consultant at NUI Galway, warns it can take up to six months to find a job so be prepared, in a pandemic, it could take a bit longer. Here's her advice:

1 Be very open. Take a scattergun approach and don't focus on one aim. For instance, if you have your heart set on becoming a solicitor, and firms are not onboarding, view other jobs as a springboard.

2 Hiring has gone fully into the virtual realm so you need to be active on the channels where companies are posting.

3 Check out Linkedin learning to improve your video call skills. For many this does not come easy so practice and remember to speak clearly and lookay at the camera.

4 Contact the career services at your university. Virtual webinars and career fairs are taking place.

5 Many graduate jobs have gone fully, or mostly, virtual for the moment. Show you have an ability to work from home.

6 Sign up for free online courses to acquire new skills or consider volunteering. It is good to show you have been doing something in the interim. Whatever you do don't not do anything.

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