gradireland conducted a survey to understand how third level students and young people are coping with the national emergency caused by COVID-19. The survey ran for a week from 25th March to 1st April on www.gradireland.com and received 716 individual responses. The large number of participants give us important insights into the morale of third level students and what their biggest fears and worries are. Importantly, they also told us what support they need from their prospective employers and universities during the national effort against COVID-19.
We found that third level students are taking isolation seriously and are adhering to government guidelines. Third level students are actively taking measures to social distance and self-isolate to support health services and help keep the most vulnerable in our society safe. However, isolation is taking its toll on their mental health with many of those who responded using words such as 'worried', 'sad' and 'bad' when they were asked to describe how they felt about the COVID-19 crisis. Students were allowed to list their three main areas of concern in the survey. The elements that concerned them most included the safety of their family, with 79% of respondents identifying that as their biggest concern. However, employment opportunities (67%) were the next biggest concern for respondents, followed by their own mental health, which was listed as a concern for 52%.
It is clear that students are craving information and interaction, not only from their friends and family but also from graduate employers and from their universities and colleges. Ongoing communications from prospective employers and universities are important in supporting students and play a clear role in building brand reputations amongst the graduate cohort.
Some responses to our survey questions
How do you currently feel amid the current COVID-19 crisis?
- 'Conflicted - as a graduate of microbiology I feel like I could be helping in some way, but I can’t seem to find any job or volunteering positions to do so. I have been taking a gap year to solidify my career plans but I am now eager to get back into industry so that I can make an impact.'
- 'I am concerned about the job market, since I am already hearing recruitment is on hold; how does this impact the job market?'
- 'I feel misplaced and at a loss. The internship opportunities I had secured for this summer in America have been cancelled. My exams have been moved to online exams and I am trying to adapt to online classes and materials in preparation for them, something I have never done before. I want my grades to reflect the work I have done in university all year, however there is a chance that with such a drastic change in assessment this may not happen. I am in my final year and graduating into a pandemic! Very concerned about employment opportunities seeing as I will not be returning to college in September.'
Students and graduates are feeling anxious, uncertain and confused. They need reassurance, guidance and advice from employers and their third level institutions. Reaching out now will register in the minds of students and graduates and help build reputations for the long term.
What some of the biggest concerns are for students, as revealed by gradireland research
What are your biggest concerns?
The health of family and friends is the biggest concern for students. Next, students are concerned about employment opportunities. This generation does not have the experience of the 2008 financial crash and therefore has no point of reference for the economic uncertainties created by the coronavirus or its impacts on the jobs market. Advice to students from employers and universities about how they can prepare for the aftermath will help them take back some control over their own futures. This should include developing their academic and workplace skills and protecting their mental and physical health. Supporting students with advice on how to take control will also help them to manage any anxiety they are feeling.
Respondents also expressed their concerns about 'financial security', 'physical health' and 'social as well as national security'.
What support would help you overcome these concerns?
When asked what type of support would help them in managing their concerns, students said that they are looking for consistent and clear communication from institutions and employers. They need information on a range of issues around academic and career progression including whether graduate programmes are taking applications, the status of internships and work placements and how they can use the time they now have to develop skills that will still be of value to graduate employers.
The technology is available for both universities and graduate employers to engage with graduate audiences. Employers and institutions should make online guides and video skills-building material available now. It will be eagerly consumed by graduates and students who may well be your employees in the future.
What can you do now?
Graduate employers: If you feel that recent graduates need to build their knowledge base and skills, now is the time to engage and tell them what skills you are looking for and how they can gain and improve them. Look at ways to make online resources interesting, entertaining and available to help students learn and build the skills you need.
Third level institutions: Students may be floundering amongst all the sudden free time and uncertainty. Third level institutions should strive to maintain a sense of structure and routine. A full timetable with online lectures and class notes to review are a great way to keep students up-to-date and engaged. Careers advice is also more important than ever. Students should know their advisers and be encouraged to engage in planning their futures.
For more information get in touch with the editor of gradireland Ruairi Kavanagh at Ruairi.Kavanagh@gradireland.com