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Coronavirus: pandemic scuppers first employment plans of graduates across the globe

Dr. Maria Jose Casco adjusts her hair as she walks near her home in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.
Dr. Maria Jose Casco adjusts her hair as she walks near her home in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.   -   Copyright  Dolores Ochoa/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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Around the world, young people armed with new degrees, diplomas and professional qualifications are struggling to enter the workforce as the coronavirus pandemic pushes the global economy into recession.

While COVID-19 has seen many firms let employees go, it has also thwarted the hopes of many of landing their first jobs — important for jumpstarting careers — as employers cut back graduate recruiting plans or even revoke job offers.

Graduate job vacancies for July are down from the previous year in 10 countries, according to Adzuna, a job postings search engine.

Britain, India and the Netherlands have seen the biggest declines, with postings down by more than half from a year ago, but other countries including Austria, Australia, Brazil, and France are also seeing double digit percentage drops.

Graduate jobs are expected to shrink in 21 countries, with most unlikely to recover next year, according to a separate report by Britain's ISE.

Recent graduates from across the globe explain how the pandemic and resulting economic crisis has affected their chances of securing their first jobs.

Phoebe St. Leger — UK

Shannon Davidson/AP
Fashion school graduate Phoebe St. Leger poses for a photo in Florence, Italy, Jan. 25, 2018.Shannon Davidson/AP

In Britain, companies plan to cut student recruitment by 23% this year, according to a survey of 179 businesses by the Institute of Student Employers.

British fashion school graduate Phoebe St. Leger’s dream of landing a job at a design label is on hold. Like many others in the global Class of 2020, the pandemic is clouding her career ambitions.

The coronavirus forced the cancellation of her university graduating class's final-year fashion show, removing the chance to show her knitwear collection to people in the industry, some of whom might have liked her work enough to offer her a job.

Instead, St. Leger, 22, returned to her family home in Winchester, southern England, and submitted her classwork online. She has applied for about 40 jobs and received only rejections.

“All the jobs have all dried up — everywhere,” she said. She knows graduates from previous years who have been fired or furloughed and is prepared to get a job at a bar. “It’s still hard to be hopeful when you’re not seeing anyone doing well at the moment."

Michael Welch — USA

The latest U.S. job numbers Friday underscored the murky outlook: 1.8 million jobs were added in July, a sharp slowdown in employment growth from the month before. It means the world’s biggest economy has regained just 42% of jobs lost to the coronavirus.

U.S. careers website Glassdoor says the number of jobs advertised as “entry-level” or “new grad” was down 68% in May from a year ago. In Britain, companies plan to cut student recruitment by 23% this year, according to a survey of 179 businesses by the Institute of Student Employers.

The wave of delayed employment will ripple out through the economy, says Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at consultancy Gartner.

Michael Welch, 22, has been scouring LinkedIn, Monster and Indeed for postings and connections after earning a University of Connecticut engineering degree. He hadn't planned to start his job search until after graduation.

“That plan was disrupted because I was planning to go into a good job market,” he said. “Suddenly I was in one of the worst job markets in recent history.”

Welch, who moved back home with his parents, worries about online interviews and starting a job remotely.

“Remote jobs are great for someone who doesn’t have to commute and already has a job,” he said. But “for someone entering the job market, it is a scary prospect. It's difficult to learn technical skills when you’re in a remote setting.”

Emmanuel Reyai — Zimbabwe

AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
Emmanuel Reyai walks on the streets of Harare while looking for a job, Wednesday, Aug, 5, 2020.AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

The pandemic is compounding problems for young people in countries plagued by chronic economic instability.

Two years after graduating with from Zimbabwe’s Midlands State University, 24-year old Emmanuel Reyai is no closer to his goal of getting a job related to his degree in local governance. His search is stymied by both the African country’s economic collapse and the coronavirus outbreak.

“I have applied more than 40 times — nothing,” he said, clutching a plastic folder containing his academic certificates.

More than two-thirds of Zimbabwe's population, including university grads, get by on informal trade such as street hawking. Reyai initially resold cooking gas from a shack in his poor Harare neighbourhood but the local council razed it after the outbreak. Now he makes and sells peanut butter around the city.

“There are no hopes of getting a job," said Reyai. “I have tried all I can to apply for jobs but the situation is not getting any better. It is actually getting worse."

Li Xin — China

In China, 23-year-old Li Xin graduated this summer with a statistics degree but had started looking for a job in January - just as the pandemic forced many companies to suspend operations. She encountered apparent scams from companies hiring for finance and IT jobs that wanted hefty “training fees."

Some classmates found banking jobs thanks to their connections. Others without ties ended up in industries unrelated to their degrees. Several are doing tutoring jobs, and Li found one herself but lasted just a week.

She felt hopeless but also realised everyone has it hard.

“I’d sit in the subway, seeing the people come and go around me, and I’d suddenly feel that it wasn’t easy for anyone,” Li said.

Eventually, Li landed a data analysis job in her hometown near Beijing that started this month. More than half her class, though, have yet to find jobs.

Clara Karina — Indonesia

Dita Alangkara/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Clara Karina poses for a photo as she waits to cross a road after a job interview at the main business district in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.Dita Alangkara/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In Indonesia, Clara Karina, 25, graduated in January with an accounting degree from a well-known business and finance school in Jakarta.

She wanted to work as a civil servant but applied for jobs at private firms as the government froze recruitment. Only three of 20 companies replied to her applications. Two turned her down and the third is in progress.

“Companies aren't recruiting new employees, they're reducing employees now," Karina said. “I need to be more patient.”

For some, there are happy endings.

Maria Jose Casco — Ecuador

Dolores Ochoa/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Dr. Maria Jose Casco adjusts her hair as she walks near her home in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.Dolores Ochoa/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Maria Jose Casco, a newly qualified doctor, hasn’t found work after graduating in Ecuador in April. Casco, 24, said she’s been searching for health-related jobs as well as work in other industries.

Even though the pandemic means more need for health services, she found employers aren’t hiring for full-time jobs.

“They're looking for temporary staff they can easily fire,” Casco said. She and her husband are living off savings and his $480 monthly salary and, like others, are considering emigrating. "Because there is no future, many of my colleagues are looking at the possibility of leaving Ecuador.”