Class of 2020 prepares for pandemic job market

Students graduating in 2019 did not have to worry about finding a job amid a pandemic; a situation the class of 2020 finds itself in. Photo courtesy of The University of Rhode Island.

Graduating University of Rhode Island seniors are grappling with an uncertain job market as the COVID-19 pandemic becomes both a public health and economic crisis. 

According to a report by Business Insider, job postings in the United States have dropped by 31 percent compared to last April. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 22 million Americans, or about 13 percent of the workforce, have filed for unemployment. Economists forecast that this is only the beginning of a recession that could sink many more businesses and jobs as the year goes on.

Brady Gunson, a senior public relations major, has noticed a difference in how jobs are posted online since the pandemic’s beginning. He began searching for jobs in marketing, events, communications and recruiting last fall, and is hoping to find a position by the end of the summer.

“[There’s] not a noticeable drop in [job] postings [online], but there does seem to be a drop in responsiveness of employers,” Gunson said. “On LinkedIn, it will usually tell you if a job is hiring urgently and that used to be pretty common and I don’t know if I’ve seen one in the past month and a half.”

Gunson has heard about a variety of job-hunting experiences from his classmates. Some of their outcomes may have been different if not for the pandemic.

“I’ve heard of a few friends securing jobs, some of which were in the process before quarantine,” Gunson said. “I’ve also had some friends losing previously secured jobs. They were contacted by their respective companies and told they could no longer onboard them as employees and would have to consider reapplying when announced.”

Kim Stack, director of URI’s Center for Career and Experiential Education (CCEE), said that the pandemic’s economic toll will affect different job sectors disproportionately. 

“There are certain industries where new jobs are being created or more jobs are being created because of the remote work and they need support,” Stack said. “So they need graduates who are interested and have the ability to transition some of the remote skills they’ve been learning now in this last month towards what their new job will in the future.”

Fields such as nursing and pharmacy will be in high demand due to the virus, according to Stack, while careers in sectors like computer science can be done remotely. Stack said that the shift to working remotely may have a long-term impact, and could transform where and how certain jobs are performed even after the pandemic passes.

According to Stack, sectors such as hospitality and travel have been hit the hardest by the pandemic due to social distancing guidelines. 

Seeing how students completing internships this semester adapted helped Stack understand how employers were adjusting due to COVID-19. According to the CCEE’s website, options for students whose in-person internships were canceled include working remotely or receiving fewer credits.

“A month ago, when we were encouraged to start to work remotely ourselves, we started with students who were currently enrolled in internships, confirming that the students were safe and able to do some things experientially remotely,” Stack said. “That was the first step in gauging what was happening with our employer partners was through internships.” 

The CCEE has traditionally helped students connect with employers for internships and jobs through partnerships with local employers, career fairs, resume workshops and alumni networks. Although traditional recruitment methods such as in-person career fairs have been cancelled, the CCEE is still providing services to students remotely.  Students can have career and internship advising appointments with their career adviser over email, phone or WebEx. Stack also encourages students to use Handshake to find opportunities that may be exclusive to URI students and alumni. Visit the CCEE’s website for more information on upcoming events.

Stack reported an increase in attendance and engagement during these online events.

“One of the ways that [students] have been incredibly receptive are through webinars or WebEx meetings,” Stack said. “So for example, we had to cancel our education [career] fair, but the career education specialist who works with our education graduates and students had offered a special session to talk about who he knew was hiring right now, ways to go about the interview process and the application process. And the students had lots of questions and they were engaged. So we’re going to do more of those.”

The CCEE has also reached out to alumni, including those who graduated in 2008 during the Great Recession, to share their experiences, give advice and make connections for future networking.

“[We’ve been] bringing in our alumni career advisor who will say, you know what, if you don’t have a position right now, it’s okay. I’m here for you over the lifetime of you being an alum and it’s a free service to support you,” Holly Hernandez, assistant director for employer relations, said.  “So what I like about this is we have like a career team, including an employer partner who is there to support these students during these webinars to offer advice and strategies and tips in order to combat COVID and the influence it’s had on the economy.”

Hernandez and Stack both think that due to being the economic fallout of a pandemic rather than a purely financial crisis, 2020 graduates will land on their feet quicker than those in 2008.

“While it will take time to recover fully from this, you’re seeing more of this aligned with things like furloughs or staff being laid off temporarily as opposed to completely abolished from a role,” Stack said. “I see a difference there and that gives me a little bit of hope.”

Although the CCEE’s methods may have changed due to the pandemic, its goals for students remain the same.

“Our work has changed in certain ways, but overall not at all because our goal is always to just create connections and opportunities for students and to support them,” Hernandez said.

Senior human development and family studies major Maya Suggs has been searching for a job in higher education. She has not found a position yet, but is stalwart in her search, despite some of the jobs she applied for being rescinded due to hiring freezes.

“I’m applying like I usually would, just keeping my eye open for any job that sparks an interest for me,” Suggs said. “I’ve been reaching out to supervisors and employers I’ve had in higher-ed fields and having them keep me posted on anything they’ve heard.”

Suggs has worked with the CCEE before on her resume and cover letter, as well as to coordinate an internship. She hopes the CCEE and the University as a whole keep the bigger picture in mind when helping soon-to-be graduates.

“I think the best thing the University can do is just keep reminding us that this will all be over, and encouraging us to keep a positive outlook on this whole situation,” Suggs said.