2020 has probably been the strangest year of so many people’s lives with the global Covid-19 pandemic, subsequent lockdown and quarantine forcing the majority of the population to stay indoors. For young people this has been especially difficult, as we have not experienced anything like this before.

For those still employed during lockdown, this could have provided the opportunity to save on costs. Being placed on furlough may have been attractive to some, being paid the majority of your salary and having free time to either learn new things or engage in leisurely activities.

However, for the majority, the stark reality presented worries. A 20% pay cut is detrimental and faced with high rent and other living costs, during lockdown some may have had to turn towards food banks or move back to possible unstable environments with their families. This time also would have been extremely taxing for those young people with little support such as young carers and single parents.

Furthermore, the furlough scheme was never a long term solution to the outbreak and taxpayers will definitely have a lower level of disposable income as a result. Some employers have also realised that by placing their employees on the scheme and retaining the same level of productivity, their businesses were able to operate more efficiently, thus leading them to let go of many of their employees either during or after the furlough scheme. 

With the introduction of the new job support scheme, an even higher level of employees are expected to lose their jobs, with hospitality in particular being hit the worst as pubs, bars and restaurants struggle to break even.  Young people, who are more likely to work in these sectors as opposed to other demographics have been greatly affected. For example, roughly 13.4% of 16-24 year olds are currently unemployed due to the virus in comparison to the national average of 4.1%. 

Many employers initially appeared to be worried that levels of productivity would drop during furlough.  However, it appears that the opposite effect is happening with many companies not renewing leases on large office space and opting for downsizing and flexible working as a more permanent solution while saving costs.

Remote working although having advantages, does not allow for the same level of interaction that would be experienced in an office environment, which could lead to more people feeling isolated as well as not being able to join in on certain social activities, ranging from after work drinks to sports especially if they live on their own and as a result, the novelty of working from home did seem to wear off for some.

From the period of March 2020 to July 2020, the amount of people claiming unemployment benefits increased by 122%. Over the coming months when the furlough scheme is set to come to an end, I have no doubt that this will increase. I was unfortunately one of the 543,000 plus 16-24 year olds left unemployed. I was working from home and not furloughed during lockdown, but then the company decided to restructure their operations. As a result, most of the recent graduates, including myself, had their contracts terminated. 

Lockdown has given me a chance to reflect on many things. For example, what do I actually want from life? I have had a lot of free time on my hands to do the things which I enjoy. While working I would have some days where I would feel far too tired to do anything else as I was working harder and not taking as many breaks as when I was in the office.

As a result I lost interest in things which I would often find fun. I like to be creative and the increase of free time gave me the opportunity to design and make my first pair of jeans.  I once again realised the importance of setting time aside for myself in order to help mental wellbeing. Although it was extremely disappointing to have lost my job, it has been beneficial to be able to set aside some time to myself.  Free time is something extremely valuable, we are conditioned to believe that we must always be super productive but in my opinion, resting your mind and having downtime can be just as important.  As a result, I have found myself feeling less exhausted and therefore waking up earlier and having more of the day to myself. This leads me onto my next point: finding a new job. 

The job market at this moment especially for graduates, feels particularly bleak. Having a degree today is not enough. Graduates should consider whether their degree is really worth their return on investment and how they can set themselves apart from equally talented candidates. Another consideration is that just because you have a degree in a particular subject, that does not guarantee you will end up in that field. This may be involuntarily, by struggling to find a job in your field or voluntarily by wanting to try something completely different or finding your true calling. There are also graduates who may be competing for roles against non-graduates who have more years of experience on their side, which in some fields may be seen as more favourable. 

As a graduate of financial economics, working in finance is the first option for me.  An alternative career I have also recently considered is teaching. Making a positive difference to the lives of children would be extremely rewarding.

As part of the job seeking process, I expect to receive a high volume of job rejections (some organisations do not even get back to you or provide feedback) due to the unbelievably competitive market. I’ve seen job postings where almost 1000 people have applied for one role after 24 hours of going live which can feel very discouraging. Searching for a job during the pandemic is extremely difficult.  This is a very challenging time for all and it seems especially bleak for young people with very few job opportunities at the current time. It is unknown how long the recovery of the economy and the job market will be, I suspect it will be a very slow recovery. However this is not the time for young people to give up, as perseverance is key and we will need to show resilience.

The current economic impact suggest that competition will remain increasingly fierce for the coming years. According to the ONS, the number of vacancies as of July to September 2020 were 40.5% lower than 9 years ago. In addition, the period of December 2019 to June 2020 saw an extreme reduction of vacancies available by 58.1%. I believe this will lead to a lot of young people staying in education for longer in order to upskill and differentiate themselves by enrolling in Masters degrees or even PhD’s.

Alternatively, being able to learn a wider range of skills online, more young people may opt for the self-employed route by setting up their own small businesses and pursuing entrepreneurship. However, this is precarious at the moment due to lack of business and government support.

Students currently in further education may also take this opportunity to opt for more vocational routes due to the high demand for these jobs and current skills shortage among younger generations for jobs such as construction and plumbing. Moreover, with the increases in the state pension age set periodically, younger people may find it more difficult to progress into more senior roles, especially as the levels of turnover are significantly lower at the highest levels of management.  The smaller possibilities of promotion and pay rise may stunt businesses looking to be innovative with fresh new ideas and for the individual may delay important financial milestones such as paying off a mortgage. 

We must also consider is the digital skills shortage. Technology is currently moving at a rapid pace and an increasing number of jobs are now becoming automated leading to higher outputs, productivity and increased levels of efficiency. A lot of the job roles that are currently available will no longer be needed in the future in replacement of new roles. Even a decade ago the job titles such as social media influencers and content creators were non-existent. These new jobs which are set to arrive will be highly technical, yet there is currently a large digital skills shortage. Young people will need to adapt to what is ahead in order to survive in the future. We have already seen large cuts to important industries such as the creative arts yet, government campaigns are encouraging people to retrain into new jobs which are simply not feasible for everyone. This leaves young people in the dark of what their next steps should be.

The impact of not being able to socialise with friends and family has also had an impact on young people. Although social media is easily at our fingertips, nothing quite compares to meeting friends and family in real life who we seek comfort in. It’s not surprising that anxiety levels have risen especially as some people may also live in unsafe environments and may face or witness domestic violence.

There is also the perception from some that young people are to blame for the spikes in Covid-19 infections through irresponsible behaviour.  While some have not followed all of the rules, it would be unfair to solely blame young people, as there has been irresponsible behaviour amongst all age groups.  In university towns, students were told to return to university and subsequently to campus and private accommodation and were locked into rent agreements. 

The lack of clarity and confusing messages from the government has not helped and fuelled conspiracy theories that some older people are beginning to buy into, therefore pitting older and younger people against each other.

This has been a year like no other, causing difficulties and hardship for many people with a bleak outlook for young people, due to lack of jobs and opportunities causing mental anxiety.  I try to remain optimistic and hope that an end to this situation is in sight and we can return to some sort of normality soon.

Yasmine Modeste is a recent graduate in Financial Economics from the University of Kent