There’s a lot of talk at the moment about how the pandemic is affecting young people in schools and college. There’s undoubtedly been a hit to not only everyone’s college experience but also to their mental health. But in many ways, those struggling through that at the moment have a support network. They have the structure of still being in a course, the community of still being in college and the fallback of mental health supports within the college.
Now I’m not saying every college is perfect nor that this pandemic isn’t affecting college students – it’s such an unfortunate time to be living through something that should be exciting and educational. But I think one group that is getting majorly overlooked in the college-pandemic debate is recent graduates.
Having left the college nest last summer, in the midst of the first wave, economic and job prospects looked dire – and still have not totally recovered. Workplaces went online and many companies – especially those in the entertainment, culinary or arts industries put a freeze on hiring. Internships fell through, opportunities to network were non-existent, and however hard it usually is to get your first job in your field (no matter how qualified you are), it just instantly became a hundred times harder.
These newly qualified people didn’t have the option of going travelling and any further courses like masters or PhDs were going to be entirely online and getting a job – even in something unrelated to your field, like working retail or hospitality – has become almost impossible.
New graduates are struggling and no one can blame them. Fresh out of university, that support network and fallback of a) the institution, b) friends and c) government consideration is gone. In the UK in 2020, the unemployment rate grew to 4.1% in the three months to July, compared with 3.9% previously and studies have found that young people were hit particularly hard in that statistic, with those aged 16 to 24 seeing the biggest drop in employment. 156,000 fewer young people were employed in the three months to July compared to the previous quarter.
"Generation Z has been hit particularly hard by the economic fall out of the pandemic as the retail and hospitality sectors, which have taken such a battering, are often relied on to help school and university leavers find an entry-level job, and get started in the world of work." – Susannah Streeter (Senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown) (BBC)
As a recent graduate myself, the feeling of being lost after finishing my course was stressful. It felt like there was no logical ‘next step’, and that everyone around me was qualified in more viable sectors. My friends had studied science, teaching, medicine and law – all things that were deemed essential. Meanwhile, I was flicking through PhD opportunities just so I wouldn’t have to leave college at a time when the arts employment opportunities were at an all-time low. I was writing and creating a portfolio, but my inbox remained stubbornly empty, except for the occasional – ‘It’s a pandemic, we’re not hiring’ email. This was disheartening but completely understandable.
While researching online talks about publishing one day, I came across an ad for a careers fair held by an Instagram page – ‘Gals Who Graduate’. I clicked into it, as they had advertised talk with the likes of Condé Nast, Cosmopolitan and Hodder and Stoughton, a publisher of commercial non-fiction. It promised to provide an overview of what life is like working in publishing. I was a little sceptical but figured I should go for it as I wasn’t getting anywhere on my own anyway.
The talks were amazing. The speakers were recruiters or high up in their field and could tell us exactly who and what they looked for in candidates. But beyond it being a great talk, as I heard the questions coming in from other participants, I realised how not alone I was. There was this whole community out there of young women who had just graduated and were also feeling similarly lost and fallen through the gaps.
‘It feels like having a degree just doesn’t cut it anymore.’
‘How do you walk the fine line between being persistent and actually bothering someone?’
‘I don’t fit all the criteria, so I didn’t apply.’
‘In a creative industry, should a CV be creative or is that just obnoxious and overdone?’
All the thoughts and questions that had buzzed through my mind over the past few months had been on everyone else’s brain too. Plenty of others had willed emails into inboxes, tried hopelessly to ‘network’ over Twitter, had experienced the self-doubt that seems to come hand-in-hand with creative degrees.
And if you take one thing away from their page, it’s okay, because that everyone experiences that self-doubt. But what are you going to do about it to prove it wrong?
The ‘Gals Who Graduate’ community provided that platform to connect with others in the same place as me. As an online support network for students & graduates, it is designed for and run by recent female and non-binary graduates of every discipline. Started by four friends leaving college back in 2019, the page has grown significantly since then. With over 30,000 followers, founder Bronte King has said that the reason she started the venture was because 49% of graduates surveyed said that their mental well-being decline after leaving university.
‘This is exactly why gals who graduate was started,’ She wrote in a post. ‘Let’s start being more open about our feelings and not feeling so alien about being down after finishing 3 years at uni. You’ve got this and you’ve got everyone around you supporting you. You’re not alone.’
With a focus on mental health, professional development and support and career networking, the page has hosted multiple events and garnered a large following. By sharing their own and their follower’s stories, they’ve fostered a real sense of community in the online world that can feel isolating at times. What’s best about it is that it’s inclusive – a diverse range of courses, ages, graduate situations and experiences – whether you were a mature student, a part timer or aren’t quite where you thought you’d be, this is the page for you.
Whether it’s hosting wellness weeks or fascinating speakers or just info on how to score your dream job, this community is well worth checking out for anyone feeling a little lost right now.