New research* reveals that almost two-thirds (62%) of graduates are concerned that the pandemic will negatively impact their future career development prospects, a sentiment which is shared by 55% of HR decision makers. Over half (53%) cite remote working as a specific concern and, as a result, over one in ten (11%) intend to stay in education for longer than previously planned, with nearly a third (64%) now planning on studying a master’s degree.
Despite the retracted labour market and initial worries last year about graduate schemes being put on hold, the findings reveal over half (57%) of UK companies have hired graduates since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in March 2020. According to Milkround’s data, September 2020 and January 2021 were two of the busiest months for graduate hires over the last year. However, as the market rebounds and businesses look to increase recruitment this year, the staggering number of graduates entering the job market means competition will reach an all-time high.
The survey of over 3,000 UK students and graduates and 500 HR decision makers highlights the varying experiences of young workers, who are entering the workforce virtually and want their voices heard. It also addresses how employers have adapted their recruitment and onboarding processes.
In practice: the virtual workforce
A year of remote working has proved difficult for some new starters. Surprisingly, a third (32%) of graduates who started work remotely have not received formal onboarding training – a process which is a crucial element in their early career journey. The findings also revealed over half (53%) of graduates have struggled to make friends in the workplace since starting work remotely, having not met any of their colleagues in-person (53%). A similar number stated full-time remote working has negatively impacted their mental health (54%) and they have struggled to remain motivated (61%).
Employers need to understand the personal circumstances of their new starters to ensure they are mindful of differing needs and work from home realities, especially given some graduates may not have a formal desk or workspace. In fact, over two thirds (67%) of graduates were not sent any home office equipment, such as a desk or office chair and only 18% received money to help purchase these items. Businesses need to reach out to new-starters to ensure they have everything they need to complete their work and be mindful of these factors in order to offer greater support, such as a buddy system, of which half (52%) said they hadn’t experienced.
Despite this, the benefits of entering the workforce remotely have also been made apparent. Whilst our current digital environment could make it harder to stand-out and connect with colleagues solely through a screen, for many graduates, remote working and communication platforms have made it less intimidating to approach people in different seniority roles across a company and get their voices heard.
Additionally, three quarters (74%) of both graduates and HR decision makers agree that joining a team virtually can help those from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds access roles they might not have previously been able to, due to living costs. Seven in ten (71%) HR decision makers say that the pandemic has made their company reconsider how they can make their recruitment more inclusive going forward.
Graduate recruitment revamp
Prior to the pandemic, only 17% of companies used virtual interviews as part of the recruitment process, however, this increased to nearly four in ten (37%) during. Over half (54%) of graduate respondents reported feeling more confident before their virtual interview than prior to an in-person interview, however, a similar proportion (49%) raised concerns that they were not able to convey themselves fully or accurately via video. In addition, 40% of graduates experienced technical difficulties during a video interview, rising to 54% of companies.
Looking ahead, the majority (63%) of students and graduates would prefer to have an initial virtual interview before attending an in-person interview, a view also held by 71% of HR decision makers, with 72% citing the time saving benefits of a virtual recruitment process. These findings suggest a combined approach, with both in-person and virtual interview processes, could help employers ensure they are getting to know graduates as effectively and authentically as possible.
In the future, flexibility will be key for young workers, with nearly half (48%) of graduates wanting to have the option to work both remotely and, in the office post-Covid-19, with the lower costs of working remotely a key factor in these motivations.
Chris May, Graduate Jobs Expert at Milkround, commented: “It’s positive to see that over half of UK businesses have continued to hire graduates during the pandemic, and that companies are recognising the benefits of flexible working in terms of work-life balance. However, the fact that the majority of entry-level talent are concerned about how remote working will impact their future career prospects suggests that there is still work to be done in supporting graduates and ensuring they can prove themselves. To do this, companies need to prioritise time for younger workers to meet fellow colleagues and provide training on job-specific skills, but also give graduates clear timelines and goals that provide them with the confidence they need to succeed and keep track of their progress.”
David Smith, Managing Partner at MHA Henderson Loggie, adds: “Overall, we have had a positive experience of onboarding and training graduates during the pandemic, moving all training, including mentoring and support, online. Whilst it is difficult to replicate online the social interactions that usually help teams to grow and bond, we have introduced virtual social events and believe there are benefits of adopting a blended pattern of working from home and in the office. We have been very conscious of the health and wellbeing of all our staff, especially our new recruits, and we have invested in improved IT system and internal communication platforms to make it easy for teams to collaborate and problem solve across locations. As a result of our recruitment programme, MHA Henderson Loggie attracted record numbers of candidates amid fierce competition for young talent and we are proud to say that we have recently been named ‘Exemplary Employer of Choice’.”