Lack of work experience takes its toll on student employability

Jun 30, 2021 | Work experience/internships

The lack of work experience due to the pandemic has left students feeling unprepared for jobs and apprenticeships, says a new survey from Prospects.

Prospects, part of Jisc, surveyed more than 7,000 students and graduates to find out how the pandemic is impacting their career decisions and experiences.

Prospects Early Careers Survey 2021 revealed that many university students feel unprepared for employment – 45% compared to 36% of college/sixth form students – and the majority faced barriers when looking for jobs or apprenticeships.

University students said that having the required work experience was their biggest barrier, followed by a lack of opportunities to apply for and having the necessary skills.

Prospects recent internship report showed that just 17% of students had undertaken work experience in the last year. Similarly, Institute of Student Employers reported that employers recruited 29% fewer interns and 25% fewer placement students.


CV expectations

While the lack of work experience is having a detrimental impact on how prepared for employment students feel, there are lots of things that students will have been doing to develop such as helping out neighbours and studying and collaborating remotely. Resilience, communication and flexibility are all skills that the pandemic has brought out in young people and that will be of value in the work place.

Employers shouldn’t expect to see the classic things like work experience on CVs this year. Expectations need to reflect the actual experiences of students during the pandemic.

We need to help young people identify what they have been doing in a way that will boost their confidence and enable them to progress their careers. Employers and careers services who are providing pointers to help bring this out in candidates are invaluable at this time.

The survey also highlighted how much students are keen to develop their skills further when they leave education with students valuing opportunities to train above anything else including salary. Employers looking to attract graduates this year would benefit from highlighting training and development opportunities.

Students’ uncertain and changing career paths

The pandemic has also left students feeling uncertain about what to do after education.

More than a third (38%) of university students said they were uncertain about their plans – more so than college students (28%). For university students, the cancelling or postponement of plans due to restrictions on travel featured heavily. They described a swathe of study abroad opportunities, offers of internships and teaching jobs abroad that had all been withdrawn.

Young people are taking steps to change their career plans to reflect the changing context. Nearly half (45%) of graduates who had found employment since graduating in 2020 said they had changed their career plans since the start of the pandemic, along with 36% of university finalists.

Many respondents said they had been inspired by people who were actively involved in supporting the pandemic response and were looking at moves into healthcare or teaching. Others said they wanted to escape industries that were struggling, such as travel and hospitality, and careers where they no longer saw a bright future. Of those who knew which industry they would like to work in, the top choice for college and university graduates was healthcare.

ISE’s latest poll showed that employers will by hiring more interns this year, which will be welcome news for many young people. Whether it’s a formal internship, shorter work experience or a day in industry, virtual or hybrid, these opportunities greatly benefit students as well as the employers seeking work-ready talent.

Read more research and insights

Was this article helpful?


Share This