Impact of Covid on student career choices

Mar 1, 2021 | Sector & policy

New data shows that the pandemic is driving students and graduates to rethink their career options, reveals Charlie Ball from Prospects at Jisc.

Nabilah Thagia is 17 and studying for her A Levels at a college in Bolton. She is one of many young people who have spent the last year assessing their opportunities and re-evaluating what step they may take next in their careers.

In her own words, Nabilah explains, “I had set my sights on engineering in year 10 but had second thoughts because there were so many other options available that I enjoyed. Reading about the amazing contributions engineers were able to make during the pandemic, through manufacturing ventilators, PPE and statistically modelling the spread of Covid-19 definitely helped to change my mind.

“I’ve decided to pursue engineering as a career, so will be undertaking a degree apprenticeship. This gives me the best of both worlds as I can gain valuable work experience and industry-recognised qualifications at the same time. The degree apprenticeship schemes in the UK are of a very high quality so I’m really excited for this next step in my engineering career.”

The process she has been through is not unique. We’re hearing time and time again of young people being inspired by what they’ve seen unfold over the last year.

We’re currently surveying students and graduates about their careers and experiences. The full report from the survey will be published on Prospects Luminate on 20 April 2021, but early findings evidence the stories we are hearing.


Prospects Student Survey 2021

Of 6,500 students and graduates more than a quarter have altered their career plans due to what’s happened with the virus and 37% said they are still uncertain about what they will do.

When considering the opportunities available to them, training and development opportunities, career progression and work/life balance were the top three most important factors.

Some respondents said they were looking at apprenticeships as an alternative to study, so they could start to earn money. Three quarters of respondents said that they had looked for an apprenticeship or training scheme in the last 12 months.

Among the reasons given for switching their plans, many said they wanted to escape industries that were struggling, such as travel and hospitality.

This is no big surprise, particularly given figures such as those from the ONS at the end of January that showed the percentage of businesses currently trading in the accommodation and food service activities industry has fallen to 34%, the lowest recorded value since comparable estimates began.

But there are others who had been inspired by people who were actively involved in supporting the pandemic response. The developments and research in health and social care and other industries are making people see those careers with a fresh perspective.


Career guidance

Of course these careers can be both challenging and rewarding, and they will have certain requirements, so it’s vital we encourage young people to seek professional careers advice and guidance. The expert support available from university and college careers services is critical to helping those feeling lost or uncertain of what to do next.

There’s also the issue of isolation associated with lockdown. When we asked students and graduates about the challenges they faced, taking care of mental health, studying at home and keeping motived came up repeatedly.

With challenging job prospects and students off campus, many young people are naturally feeling vulnerable. It’s vital that we find more ways to deliver career advice and support to young people, particularly those in under-represented groups who are at most risk of disadvantage.

We must remember that although students and graduates have shown remarkable resilience and adaptability during the last year, the job and career prospects of the young have been hit disproportionately hard by this pandemic and they deserve the best support we can offer.


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