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What the post-COVID-19 job market might look like for graduates

May 2020

Graduates face a difficult job market in the years ahead, but they can be the ones to create an economy that is better prepared to withstand events like a pandemic, writes Catherine Flynn from the Berlin School of Business and Innovation

 It is an inescapable fact that COVID-19 is having an impact on almost every aspect of our lives. Most final-year university students and those pursuing further education are focusing on finishing their programmes and graduating, but many are concerned about the challenges they may face transitioning into the world of full-time work.

The challenges

History shows us that from the Great Depression to the financial crisis of 2008, the impact of a recession damages employment prospects for those in the job market (with higher levels of unemployment, lower pay and worse job prospects in the long-term) compared with other young people entering work before or after the downturn as COVID-19 lockdowns place pressure on the global economy.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) predicts that working hours will decline globally in the second quarter for 2020 by around 6.7 %, which is equivalent to 195 million full-time workers.1 None of this paints a particularly pretty picture for graduates and unless this downturn is addressed, there is the danger that the COVID-19 generation of graduates will leave higher education with limited options.

Accepting the idea that we must all be lifelong learners who need to be open to ongoing skill sharpening, or even re-skilling entirely, will help us move forward.

Preparing for the future

Competition for jobs and internships is sure to be fierce and hunting for a job is not the easiest task at the best of times. Graduates may be faced with the decision of taking a lower status or paid position in order to secure employment or continue to enhance their knowledge and skills using higher education or practical courses. International students may also have to rethink plans to remain in the country of their studies, to move to a country with better prospects, or return to their home country for those who need to fall back on financial and family resources. 

Depending on government responses to this crisis, businesses may be more optimistic about their recovery and ability to scale up their operations again. The German government has been generally praised for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with not just its healthcare system proving to be robust, but for policies such as Kurzarbeit.

Kurzarbeit is a policy of government-subsidised shorter working hours to avoid mass unemployment and was touted as one of the reasons why Germany recovered well from the 2008-9 financial crisis.2 The IFO, the German Economic Institute, predicts that conditions post-COVID-19 are set to improve within two years, which makes Germany an attractive market.

Time to get ahead

In this historic moment, it's important to keep looking forward. Accepting the idea that we must all be lifelong learners who need to be open to ongoing skill sharpening, or even re-skilling entirely, will help us move forward. Graduates using economically difficult times to expand their skillsets can better protect themselves for the future with platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, edX and Udemy offering a wide variety of online courses.

Graduates are the entrepreneurs of the future and they can learn a lot from this pandemic experience, helping the world to prepare for the economy of the future that could better withstand events like COVID-19. By keeping abreast of the latest trends and ideas, graduates can be at the forefront of this change. Perhaps the storm will be weathered by connecting with other innovators to build better companies that use things like automation and AI to synergistically help workers and companies to be better prepared in the future.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of HECSU/Prospects


  1. COVID-19 causes devastating losses in working hours and employment, ILO, 2020.
  2. Kurzarbeit: a German export most of Europe wants to buy, Financial Times, 2020.

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