The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced students’ confidence that they will be able to find a job after graduating and what salary they will be earning, according to research from Bright Network.

A majority of graduates surveyed (65%) said they were not confident that they would be able to get a graduate role, and 85% said uncertainty caused by the pandemic increased the amount of pressure they felt to find employment. The news comes as the UK unemployment rate rose from 4.5% to 4.8%, with people aged between 16-24 particularly badly effected. 14.6% of people within this age group who are “economically active” – excluding students or people unable to work due to illness, disability or caring duties – are unemployed.

The research also found that the earning potential of new graduates fell from £27,000 at the beginning of 2020 to £25,980. This is despite initiatives such as the UK government’s Kickstart Scheme, which offers employers £2000 for every person aged between 16-24 on Universal Credit they employ.

The approval of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19, which the NHS began to deliver in December, has not improved graduates’ confidence. Only 21% felt the vaccine increased their confidence that they would find a graduate role. This indicates graduates fear that the economic recovery from the pandemic will be slow. The UK economy fared worse than any other G7 nation, falling 20.4% in the three months before June 2020. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warned that the UK suffered the second-worst hit to their economy out of 37 member nations, and that the country stood at a “critical juncture” as it leaves the EU Single Market at a time when scientists are warning of a potential “third wave” of COVID infections.

Bright Network, who describe their mission as connecting “ambitious young people from all backgrounds with the best career opportunities” also identified how inequalities between students affected their confidence in finding a graduate position. Privately-educated students were 21% more like than those from state schools to say they had the right network to help them find employment. First generation students were also disadvantaged at continuing their education, with 70% complaining of a lack of access to adequate workspaces, and 42% saying their internet connection was consistently “poor”.

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Graduates have responded to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic by looking for ways to make themselves more appealing to potential employers. 60% of students polled said they were planning on continuing their education beyond their undergraduate degree in order to stand out in a competitive employment market. 90% also said they wanted employers to help students by providing them with opportunities to learn key skills at university.

Commenting on the findings, the CEO of Bright Network James Uffindell said “Our Talent Tracker continues to highlight the real and long-lasting impacts the pandemic will have on the UK’s young people looking to begin their careers. Students’ persistent concerns about fewer employment prospects, despite the great news about the vaccine roll-out, tell us that the challenges students face to secure the right graduate job will persist beyond the pandemic – we know that the economy won’t bounce back immediately.

“It’s imperative that as we look ahead to 2021 and a recovery from the pandemic, we ensure the next generation are given the best skills training and opportunities to help build back the economy we need”.

Image Credit: Claire MacNeill / Geograph. Licence: CC-BY-SA 2.0.