A new report from social mobility charity the Sutton Trust has found that almost half of university students in the UK believe that the COVID-19 crisis has reduced their prospects of securing employment upon graduation.
The study commissioned Generation Z research and insight specialists YouthSight to survey 895 undergraduates currently studying in British universities.
Respondents were asked how the government’s coronavirus-containment measures had affected them.
46% reported that they believed that the disturbance to their education this year had had a negative impact on their future job prospects.
The report includes reference to a recent poll by YouGov (also commissioned by the Sutton Trust) that found that 61% of 1,005 employers surveyed – almost three-fifths – reported that they had been forced to close down some or all of their work experience placements for undergraduates.
Many also warned that they will be recruiting considerably fewer – and sometimes zero – graduates in the coming 12 months.
The YouGov poll found that small and medium-sized businesses in the UK were the most likely to be restricting opportunities for graduates due to the lockdown.
49% were planning to cut all internships and work experience placements, while less than a third (29%) of larger employers were planning to do so.
The Sutton Trust has developed guidelines for employers in an attempt to help them promote social mobility in the post-COVID environment.
A key suggestion is to devise ways of shifting as many work experience, internship, outreach and recruitment initiatives as possible online.
The charity’s founder and chairman Sir Peter Lampl said that it was “crystal clear” that young people will be especially adversely affected for many years by the huge economic downturn the pandemic is causing.
Young people from poor backgrounds, he said, would be the worst affected.
He added: “Employers will need policies in place to allow everyone a fair chance of being recruited to the lower number of graduate jobs available.
“As internships and work experience placements are declining, employers need to move their programmes online.
“We need to act now to make sure that all young people have opportunities to enter the labour market.”
Commenting, the Labour Party’s Shadow Minister for Young People, Cat Smith, accused the government of being “too slow to act” in the face of skyrocketing youth unemployment.
She said that the report showed a “clear gap” between government promises and the collapsing number of work experience opportunities that employers were now able to offer.
Smith urged the government to abandon its “one size fits all” assumptions about youth unemployment and collaborate with local authorities to assist businesses to recruit and train young staff.
Ronel Lehmann, the founder and CEO Finito, sounded a critical note, emphasising that a recent spike in public funding for opinion polling had resulted in the Sutton Trust scaring “the living daylights” out of youngsters who were already worried about their future employment.
He was emphatic that the solution to a crisis resided in using the difficulty to help young people demonstrate their “capability, imagination and passion” to prospective employers.
Instead of relying on opinion polls, which often prove inaccurate and out of date the moment they are published, Lehman urged young people to remember that some of the country’s best business leaders “came from disadvantaged backgrounds and rose right to the top”.