Graduate Careers – What a Difference a Year Makes | Editorial


A new report reveals the impact of Covid 19 restrictions on mid-career graduates, the persistence of the gender pay gap and the potential longer-term implications on the nature of the graduates’ labor market.

  • The report captures the impact of the pandemic on a national sample of graduate workers in their early 30s, the majority of whom had achieved reasonable job security in 2019, and many of whom were balancing work and parenting or other care roles when the pandemic has struck.
  • The results reveal how the pandemic impacted the economic position of workers, reshaped their motivations and aspirations, and affected their mental health.
  • The experiences of the pandemic have reinforced the existing inequalities in terms of access to safe and pleasant employment.
  • The gender pay gap revealed in this study of mid-career graduates is unchanged from that shown in a study conducted in 2002.
  • Homework creates new potential for discrimination, especially in access to training and promotion
  • Graduates confident in their employer’s concern for the well-being of their staff coped better with the challenges of the pandemic
  • These graduates had a rough start to their careers thanks to the 2008 recession, with many reporting that it made them more resilient to the challenges of Covid. Their experience has implications for graduates now leaving higher education, as well as for policy makers and employers.

What a difference a year makes: the impact of Covid 19 on the careers of graduates *, published today by the University of Warwick Institute for Employment Research, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, captures the impact of the pandemic on a nationwide sample of graduate workers in their early 30s, the majority of whom had achieved reasonable job security in 2019, and many of whom were balancing work and parenting or other pre-employment care roles. pandemic.It illustrates how the pandemic has affected the economic position of these mid-career graduate workers, reshaped their motivations and aspirations, and affected their mental health. The report also highlights the challenges and considerations for employers as they adapt working conditions and practices to the post-pandemic landscape.Professor Kate Purcell said:“We wanted to know how participants in our long-standing Futuretrack ** study saw their jobs change during the Covid-19 restrictions, and how the immediate economic impact on demand for products and services affected their material circumstances, their employment and their financial situation. security, and their broader career paths and aspirations.“We found that almost all of our participants have experienced dramatic changes in their professional lives, whether they are on leave, working from home or continuing in front line positions. Many participants working on site reported ‘front line fatigue’, while those working remotely often reported burnout caused by breaking boundaries between time and space of work and non-work, and the difficulties of managing these borders.“Employers have played a critical role in managing negative impacts: our participants reported that good communication and support led to increased engagement while lack of communication and support resulted in loss of confidence in employers and unions. “Among the many results, the authors highlighted the following:

  • Returned: 16 percent of participants said they saw their personal incomes decline between March 2020 and December 2020. Some high-paying graduates experienced pay cuts, but the groups that saw their income fall tend to be mostly among graduates the lowest paid, those with gross annual incomes of less than £ 21,000, the self-employed and those with jobs in the hardest hit sectors, transport and tourism, hospitality and catering and construction.
  • Job security: Only a third of independent respondents had been able to count on government compensation for lost income. Among independent graduates, there was a bias based on the sustainability of the demand for their knowledge and skills. Those operating in industries characterized by erratic job opportunities and strong competition have become more insecure and vulnerable during the pandemic, but those in traditional graduate occupations and those using and developing new technologies have mainly reported continued demand. , sure and even growing for their expertise.
  • The rapid rise of teleworking: Covid restrictions have amplified the development of new ways of working already established in many organizations: virtual teamwork, online meetings, reduction of non-essential work-related travel, use of technology in production and administration. Companies that fared well included highly profitable global and national multi-site organizations that tended to be better equipped and more adept at accommodating the new circumstances in which they had to operate, as well as charities engaged in employee participation in decision making. manufacturing and environmental sustainability, and small businesses used to working collaboratively across professional boundaries.
  • Potential loss of collaboration opportunities and risk for innovation: Graduates working in scientific and creative professions and those requiring advanced expertise in interpersonal relations and communication said that without collaborative face-to-face work, innovation can progress more slowly and the labor market for working graduates in the areas concerned will be decreased.
  • New potential for discrimination: introducing flexibility in the workplace is not necessarily a “win-win” situation for employers and employees. Face-to-face working facilitates informal consultation and better non-verbal communication in a way that a computer screen cannot. This is important for recognition of efforts and for promotion. As some groups are more likely than others to work remotely, the potential for discrimination may increase.
  • Fear for the future: between 2019 and 2020, 8% fewer participants agreed with the statement “I’m optimistic about my long-term career”. The people most likely to remain optimistic about their long-term career prospects were men, were under 21 when they started their undergraduate education, came from management and professional backgrounds, and had studied in fields such as medicine and dentistry or mathematics and computer science.
  • Change in perspective on work / life balance: Living with the pandemic and working from home had led many graduates to question their previous career-focused life. In particular, although restrictions on mixed households and the closure of schools and childcare services created enormous difficulties for parents, there was evidence that men and women were adjusting their patterns of care. work to meet this challenge – and appreciated how their past lives had been out of balance. .
  • Modified aspirations: A substantial proportion of respondents said their career plans, values ​​and aspirations had been affected by their experiences during the pandemic and that they had reassessed what was important to them in their career. This was reported by more than half of first degree graduates in creative arts, non-STEM-focused subjects and, more surprisingly, law, economics and management, as well as those working in marketing departments.

Cheryl Lloyd, Education Program Manager at the Nuffield Foundation, said:“This study provides rich evidence on the experiences of mid-career graduates during the pandemic, including the financial and employer support they received and how this has varied by industry, occupation, stability of employment and key worker status.“The report also makes recommendations that could promote fairness and better support all employees, including extending reporting on the gender pay gap to small organizations and introducing rigorous procedures around flexible working arrangements. “Gender pay gapCommenting on the findings of the gender pay gap, Professor Peter Elias said:“We were surprised to find that the gender pay gap for these mid-career graduates (the difference in average annual pay between men and women) remains almost the same as the gap measured for a national sample. similar number of mid-career graduates in 2002. We urge employers to address the gender pay gap and ensure that the increased use of remote work does not discriminate against certain categories of employees.Sources: Elias, P. and K. Purcell (2004) “Graduates’ Early Career Earnings”, Futuretrack Research Paper No.5, Warwick Institute for Employment research, and Elias, P., K. Purcell, G. Atfield, E. Kispeter, R. Day and S. Poole (2021) “Ten Years Later – Life After Graduation”, Warwick Institute for Employment Research.Reflecting further on the role of employers, Prof Purcell commented:“Looking at the long-term impact of the pandemic on the rise of remote working, the pandemic accelerated the changes that were already starting to be made by many organizations and demonstrated in a year the feasibility of changes that would otherwise have taken much more time to set up. get wide acceptance.“Many graduates commented positively on employers who had reacted in a proactive, positive and reassuring manner to preserve their highly skilled workforce, but there was disenchantment among those where their organizations had simply used vacation money and Whereas things are improving, with little planning. for the post-pandemic period.Recommendations The report concludes with recommendations to policymakers and employers in five priority areas aimed at addressing not only the issues identified by the study, but also the likely future labor market issues that graduates will face. This involves (i) addressing the gender pay gap, (ii) facilitating flexible working arrangements, (iii) dealing with the impact of the restrictions and requirements of Covid-19 on the well-being of employees, (iv) the need for more complete and timely information on higher education outcomes, and (v) taking into account the increasing fragmentation of jobs and job insecurity.

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