COVID-19 has disrupted life for college students, especially as the ongoing pandemic continues to hamper the job market.
While some experts have predicted a return to pre-pandemic employment numbers by the end of 2021, college students are still at a disadvantage.
Hiring for entry-level college graduates has fallen by 45%. Furthermore, during a time when skills and intellectual agility are at a premium, a study found that students lack the necessary skills employers desire.
A separate 2020 Recruiter Nation survey also revealed that the lack of skilled and qualified candidates remains one of the biggest hiring challenges.
At a moment of profound economic uncertainty, preparing students to enter the job market should take on a new sense of urgency.
Tailored planning pathways
So, what can higher education institutions do to better prepare students for the tough job hunt ahead?
Colleges can develop a specific action plan that highlights ways to better prepare students post-graduation, strengthening connections between college to career. This action plan should include initiatives that help students build on their strengths, set ambitious goals and gain experiences for bold paths after graduation.
These initiatives could include an advanced mentorship program that connects students with on-campus mentors and advisors. These relationships—which start early and last long after graduation—can educate students on academic skills, professional agility, and overall life talents that have become most desirable in the workforce.
A recent study found that 68% of students felt stress in choosing their career paths at college, leaving many overwhelmed and confused, which also can lead to unsuccessful college experiences. To overcome this, colleges can offer more tailored professional career planning pathways that seamlessly connect life in college to life after graduation.
Each pathway can shape students’ interests into a simplified and customized lane, leading them to their most desired career and future. These paths should not only focus on courses, but field experiences, clubs, summer internships, mentors, alumni, study abroad programs and more to better align students’ passions to their full-time careers.
For instance, if a student has a passion for theatre, environmental arts, and communications, the college could provide the student with the resources to turn those passions into a career, like working in a company dedicated to sustainable clothing practices. If a student wants to run their own business, offer the necessary on-campus resources dedicated to student ventures that help bring those ideas to market.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 80% of all jobs are found through some form of networking. So it’s imperative for colleges and universities to build the kinds of alumni programs that provide consistent and resourceful networking opportunities for young students.
One way to do this is by placing students in groups with alumni volunteers based on aligned interests, experiences, and passions, giving them a more substantial boost in today’s job market. Although alumni involvement is a big commitment, we’ve proven here at Beloit College that it helps ensure a strong foundation for students’ professional success and produces graduates who are confident, focused, and employable.
Finally, colleges can adapt and respond in innovative ways to crises by implementing solutions that meet the moment. For instance, many colleges pushed back their 2020 or 2021 academic calendars to mitigate potential COVID spikes following breaks.
Rather than just giving students extended time off, Beloit launched a two-week career accelerator program that helped students identify, prepare for, and apply for internships, jobs, and other career-related opportunities, with more than one-third of our student body participating.
The spread of COVID-19 has been felt by all and made its mark on our economy and job market. At Beloit, we’ve met these challenging times with thoughtfulness and vigor by launching new programs that have proven to better prepare students to address the job market head-on.
These initiatives meet the moment and should be continued—not only at Beloit but everywhere—even after the pandemic has ended to ensure students are prepared for the workforce.
Eric Boynton is provost and dean at Beloit College.