Job prospects for students and graduates can prove to be daunting, especially with the added challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Obstacles for current students and upcoming graduates in finding employment include lack of available opportunities and pay, competition, and a saturated job market.
Back in May, Statistics Canada released data detailing that 67 per cent of the 100,000 post-secondary students surveyed were extremely concerned about not having job prospects any time soon. Overall, 58 per cent said they were worried about losing their job.
Many such York students were impacted consequently by the pandemic’s siege on employment.
One being international student Muhammad Hunain Khan, a third-year student studying a Bachelor of Commerce, who was working for a Toronto-based magazine when the pandemic began, and had his hours significantly reduced as a result. “It was no longer economically viable for me to continue working there. I had to quit my job and leave Canada for my home country,” says Khan.
Recent York alumnus and former LA&PS affiliated staff member Desmond Poon says that he was initially instructed to work remotely, but that changed as the pandemic dragged on. “Then my contract expired. I have not been employed or have been able to find work in the process. The challenges I have faced during this time was keeping occupied and keeping mentally fit.”
Students still show concern about drying up their savings, future prospects, and whether online education will be considered valuable in the working world.
Ricardo Brown, recent alumnus of the Cinema and Media Studies (CMS) program at York, is a wedding videographer who saw a drastic drop in his work hours. “Weddings can go anywhere from 50 guests to 300 guests easily and coming to terms with these realities made it difficult to find work throughout the year. Trying to resort to another means of income was a concern when this was my initial plan in the meantime for when I graduated school.”
In previous years, Khalid Desai, third-year business administration student, was working part-time during school and full-time in the summer. “My workplace had to close down in June and there’s been no word from my boss on when it’ll open again. Luckily, the government has been handing out benefit checks to taxpayers to make sure citizens aren’t struggling to put food on the table.”
Although, even with Canada’s federal government introducing the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) on April 22, students still showed concern about drying up their savings, future prospects, and whether online education will be considered valuable in the working world.
“It mostly boils down to these uncertain times. Because we were told to hunker down, there was this lack of human connection; as we are a social species, we need each other to thrive,” explains Poon. “In terms of work opportunities, one of the challenges may be that employers do not have the resources to support the workforce in times of uncertainty such as now.”
Khan believes the university should reopen campus facilities, such as restaurants and gyms, with safety precautions. “This will not only create more jobs for students but also help them engage with their academic life in a better way,” he explains.
Interestingly enough, however, there is one industry that has increased its job prospects for individuals. Schulich Professor of Operations Management & Information Systems, Manus Johnny Rungtusanatham, points out that COVID-19 has added work opportunities specifically involving the effect of the flow of goods and services. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of supply chains and networks, and jobs involving “manufacturing, sourcing, storing, transporting and tracking goods.
Students and graduates should update their knowledge about the industries that are actively looking to recruit graduates, learn how to tap into the hidden job market to find opportunities that may not be advertised, and practice forming connections on virtual platforms.
“To qualify for these jobs, graduates will need to obtain deep exposure to operations and supply chain management knowledge,” explains Rungtusanatham. “Beyond this, graduates must also have the following qualifications: strong analytical skills; creative/critical thinking skills; accounting/finance skills for understanding true costs of activities; negotiation skills to work collaboratively with partners up and down the supply chain; and communications skills to explain complex matters intuitively.”
However daunting other job markets may seem right now, there are steps students and upcoming graduates can take in not only finding potential prospects, receiving an interview, but actually landing employment, and relieving a myriad of stressors.
Brown advises students that now is the time to be open minded about both job prospects and yourself. “See what you like or what you are good at, because the line of work that you possibly were aiming for may take a turn for the worse due to COVID-19—but seeing what else you are open to can maybe be the big breakthrough you were aspiring for.”
To win jobs pertaining to supply chains and networks, the flow of goods and services, “graduates must not only put together an appealing resume but also network professionally (see Supply Chain Canada),” advises Rungtusanatham.
David Ip Yam, Director of Career Education and Development at York, along with members of the team at York’s Career Centre, advise students to take this time to expand their network, in general.
“Stay connected by engaging with their content, sharing articles and information that might be helpful to them, and creating your own content that adds value to your network. Ensure that you have a professional online presence not only on your LinkedIn, but on other social media platforms as well,” Ip Yam and the team at the Career Centre explain.
Hardships are just another opportunity to test your resilience.
Since most other job markets remain competitive as well, Khan echoes Rungtusanatham’s sentiments in compiling a resume that stands out to employers. “Then, if offered a job, it needs to be made sure that the company you are working for can sustain itself,” Khan adds.
Adding to that, Ip Yam and the team at the Career Centre advise students to do an inventory of their skills, strengths, experiences, and achievements, as well as keeping a log to refer to when preparing job applications. This will help prepare a targeted resume and cover letter. Once landing an interview, prepare for an online one as if it were an in-person interview.
“Analyze the job posting, research the organization, and prepare for potential questions. Prepare a list of references and follow up with a thank you email after the interview. If it is an online interview, prepare your space and choose a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted by other people. Practice talking to the camera and make sure the camera is at eye level,” Ip Yam and the Career Centre team explain.
The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations is also a renowned advocate for post-secondary students; they are still offering resources for students coping with COVID-19 stressors which also includes mental health support.
As well, York’s Career Centre has moved their services online, so students can utilize their amenities: “With the pandemic, students and graduates should update their knowledge about the industries that are actively looking to recruit graduates, learn how to tap into the hidden job market to find opportunities that may not be advertised, and practice forming connections on virtual platforms. This is where the Career Centre comes in!” says Ip Yam along with his team.
The Centre hosts job search webinars, and their career exploration events and recruitment sessions schedule can be found on the Career Centre website. “There’s a lot there, so if you’re not sure where to begin, start with a drop-in session at the Career Lounge where a trained peer career educator can point you in the right direction,” explains Ip Yam and his team.
“Be patient and apply to anything and everything that would interest you,” says Poon. “Even if you do not get a response.”
Other resources Ip Yam and the team at the Career Centre offer include: Resources for Uncertain Times, Job Search and Networking Strategies, Individual Job Search, LinkedIn Learning, How to Effectively Use LinkedIn, Career Conversations Panels, Career Centre Events, Resumé & Cover Letter Writing webinar, the Virtual Career Lounge, the Interview Preparation webinar, and their My Career Exploration Guide & Workbook on the Centre’s Moodle site.
In the meantime, Desai reminds everyone: “Hardships are just another opportunity to test your resilience.”