The world of work is changing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Graduates from colleges and universities with newly minted degrees are facing a new reality as they embark on their careers. Between canceled internships, closed career offices, and virtual job searches, stressful times abound. In a recent survey conducted by Indeed of over 1000 students graduating in 2020, 54% said they feel less confident about finding a job following graduation. Another 33% said they feel they will struggle to get a position in their industry of choice. As a result, preparing graduates for remote work is taxing.
In addition, there is little doubt that the changes being seen now will have lasting repercussions on the global workforce. Since state governments issued stay-at-home orders, companies have transitioned as many positions as possible to work from home. For many this is a temporary situation, considering that an estimated 56% of workers can work remotely. Not surprisingly, 80% of workers report they would rather work remotely. Because of these and other persuasive statistics, most experts predict virtual companies and remote jobs will become much more popular.
As the graduates of 2020 enter the workforce, how are universities and colleges adapting to help kickstart their careers?
Virtual Career Counseling
With in-person meetings impossible, most universities and colleges were quick to adjust to virtual meetings. Taking advantage of new technologies, many career offices are scheduling career counseling appointments via Zoom or Skype.
Another way that career centers engage students is by scheduling virtual drop-in hours for a more informal option such as those offered by the University of Washington. Topics covered include career direction, networking, interview skills, and resume reviews.
Online Resource Guides
Almost universally, post-secondary institutions are publishing online resource guides to help their students find information they may need to support the job search. These guides vary in composition. However, most include current information regarding job search skills, internships, current openings, and a variety of remote job search resources.
Universities write these articles or blog posts with links out to further information. However, career centers are also engaging students by creating a variety of videos, podcasts, and webcasts for some topics. In addition, some innovative career center programs such as the one at American University have developed a variety of online workshops to assist students in developing their remote job search skills.
Virtual In-Class Preparation
The career services department isn’t the only place that students can receive employment advice. Many professors are trying to give their students a leg up by including career advice during lectures. In addition, some are posting links to job ads they hear about from their professional networks.
Seema Thomas, Adjunct Professor of Urban Sustainability at the University of the District of Columbia describes her process:
“During the semester, at the end of each class, we would discuss ‘career nuggets’—important pieces of information to consider during the job search and student’s career. Using Blackboard’s announcement feature, I shared many postings through my networks as well.”
In-class assistance of this type is effective, especially for more specialized career paths. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit some jobs and professions extremely hard, such as travel and hospitality. Others have remained relatively untouched, while still others are experiencing a boom. Professor Thomas noted:
“I teach a course on urban sustainability at the University of the District of Columbia, where approximately half of my students were graduating seniors. This was a major concern as COVID-19 unfolded when networking events and internships were cancelled.”
However, both the professor and her students were surprised when, “Unexpectedly, many of the urban agriculture (or ag in general) jobs continued or ramped up as urban areas moved towards local food suppliers.”
E-Mentors & Virtual Networking
Another area of career preparation that has moved into the virtual arena is student mentorship and networking activities. With the relative slowdown due to the pandemic, professionals have had extra time on their hands. In addition, a “we’re all in the same boat” attitude means professionals are more willing than usual to help.
Many universities and colleges have formal mentorship programs to prepare graduates for remote work. Universities usually hold these in conjunction with the institution’s Alumni Association. One such program is the one at the University of Georgia (UGA). This draws upon the skills and experience of their alumni to provide students with guidance and support. Far from slowing down, UGA is holding multiple virtual orientation sessions for the program throughout the summer.
Virtual networking events are also being held in an effort to duplicate in-person networking such as holding virtual happy hours and lunch networking events such as those offered by Carnegie Mellon University. There are also a variety of formats emerging for these events. The University of Minnesota also developed a model where students move through a series of brief chats with alumni experts in a variety of fields.
Virtual Career Fairs & Company Presentations
Usually a mainstay of the career services provided by universities and colleges, traditional career fairs are on hold indefinitely. To compensate, a host of virtual options have taken their place. While this is not a new idea, it has been slow to take hold until recently.
Led by institutions such as the University of South California, students and employers are starting to realize the benefits of an online forum to prepare graduates for remote work. When attending a physical career fair, students stand in line to meet with representatives of the companies that interest them. This means that at a busy four-hour fair, a student may only meet a handful of recruiters. The virtual format dictates that students are in multiple lines at one time and hold distraction-free conversations.
The other method traditionally used by companies to get in front of graduates is company presentations. Some schools have developed opportunities to deliver virtual presentations such as MIT where all presentations have already been moved online.
COVID-19 has resulted in the cancellation of most in-person internships to the dismay of students worldwide. Encouragingly, however, many post-secondary institutions and corporate hosts are exploring ways to move internships to an online format. To encourage corporations to transition online, institutions such as the University of Wisconsin and Yale are developing and promoting detailed guides on how to develop effective remote internships.
In some cases—especially when internship experience is required for graduation—academic programs are exploring alternatives. One example—developed by the Financial Planning Association—is a virtual externship experience that provides students with work experience similar to an internship. This eight-week experience presents weekly topics and expert presentations before tasking the student to complete common intern tasks. The requirement to participate is a membership, and aspiring financial planners only pay $50 per year.
Another example is the Exelaration internship program billed as the #3 Tech & Engineering internship in the country at Virginia Tech. The organization brings together student teams under the mentorship of senior engineers to develop software for clients. Currently, they host 18 year-round interns and have decided to continue their internship program online. In fact, Exelaration recently hosted a virtual group interview for their new fall intern intake rather than a typical live one.
Skills Development & Tutoring
Another option presented to prepare graduates for remote work is to upskill or explore additional education options such as graduate programs. Career centers provide access to a variety of free online resources as well as information on continuing education options such as this page on the UMass Amherst website. Topics vary from how to work in a remote environment to advancing their education via post-graduate certificates or master’s degrees.
Of course, all these wonderful online services depend on a few things: a good internet connection, a willingness to innovate, and supportive software. Luckily for the graduating class, the use of software tools available to help is more readily available than ever.
Some software solutions focus on a comprehensive solution to all of an institution’s career services needs. These “career accelerators,” offer a complete range of services to connect students on college campuses with open positions. Typically, school career centers provide a suite of workflow solutions for employers and counselors. Examples of these solutions include Handshake, VMock, and Purple Briefcase.
In the past, critics have accused colleges and universities of not meeting the career needs of their students. However, schools have been quick to respond to changing needs during this global crisis. Their efforts—combined with partnerships with corporations, associations, and other organizations—are helping students navigate a vastly changing career landscape. In addition, advances in technology are serving as an essential tool in this transformation. By continuing to build on the efforts to date, new graduates can successfully continue on their chosen career paths.
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