Young adults are reporting some of the highest levels of anxiety and depression among the US population today, and we should hardly be surprised. While the stock market is largely back to its pre-pandemic levels, uncertainty about the job market and its impact on professional prospects is at an all time high among recent graduates.
With entry-level job postings dropping by as much as 73% according to recent reports, post-college professionals are left with few options to jump start their careers at a time that should be one of the most productive periods of their lives.
What then can young professionals practically do to improve their career prospects coming out of this underemployment crisis and regain a much needed sense of stability, and what can the rest of us do to support them?
Let’s take a look at what these emerging professionals are currently doing. While the largest share ever of 18-29 year olds is moving back to live at home with their parents, the situation may not be quite as bleak as some media paints as there’s a multitude of factors that play into a decision like this in a pandemic situation. The ability to work from home or manage a job search completely remotely, coupled with the relative high cost of living in larger cities that is now difficult to justify when the quality of life has diminished, makes moving home and saving some money in a period of uncertainty simply a practical decision for those who have the ability to do so.
Though it seems that the flexibility of the remote work culture should provide more opportunities for employment as the typical geographic barriers are removed, some recent graduates are worried about selling themselves short and starting off their careers at a lower salary tier than they otherwise would, in part given the student debt burden that many of them have incurred. Somewhat counterintuitively, while overall college admission rates are down this year with many colleges moving to remote instruction, graduate school admission rates are actually up about 3% this year. This may be a signal that some young people are choosing to prolong their schooling and hopefully increase their income potential as they weather the economic storm.
There are other indications that professionals are actively looking for creative ways to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive job market. Since the start of the pandemic, online education companies have seen record enrollment numbers for professional skills development programs. While alternative education programs have generally been increasing in popularity over the last decade, this year some private companies have reported increases in demand by as much as 400%. Some factors that may be playing a role in the rise of popularity of these programs are low barriers to admission and participation, relatively low tuition costs and flexible payment options, and a lower time commitment for skills acquisition as many of these programs can be completed part time during nights and weekends.
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Still, despite the increasing abundance of options for professional development, many are finding it difficult to understand what skills are most valued in a rapidly changing marketplace, and decide what career choices suit them the most. In a recent survey of over 1,000 young professionals ranging from 21-35 years old who signed up to attend our technology career classes at School16, a program that helps prepare people for non-technical jobs in tech companies, 70% of respondents expressed interest in at least 3 completely different career paths, including sales, marketing, operations and product management.
Given the unprecedented situation that young people have found themselves in, what can organizations and their leaders do to lessen the burden on them and improve their professional prospects? For one, companies can change the playbook and proactively lower the barriers to hiring entry-level talent that’s desperately looking to gain much needed professional experience. The stigma associated with resume gaps should begin to disappear as it unfairly penalizes those who are unable to accept unpaid internships or lower paying jobs just to pad their resumes. Additionally, with the rise in popularity of alternative skills development programs, many of the top tech companies are no longer requiring 4-year degrees. Most other industries, however, have yet to follow suit.
Companies can also get more creative as to how they attract and train talent. This summer Google announced 100,000 need-based scholarships for online certifications in in-demand skills such as data analytics, project management and user experience design. Although most companies may not have the discretionary budgets to provide education at mass scale, they can provide additional pathways to employment for rising talent beyond the standard application process. Industries such as manufacturing and information technology have already embraced the apprenticeship model as a way to train and hire new talent, and several states are offering tax incentives and grants for employers who hire apprentices.
Finally, companies can do more to support the entry-level workers they already employ to help mitigate the career uncertainty that many of them are experiencing. By making professional development opportunities more broadly available to all employees, and not just for the people leaders, providing one on one mentorship for those who want better career guidance, and helping professionals develop the soft-skills that can lead to opportunities for promotions, organizations can help level the playing field for a population that’s struggling now more than their predecessors have in decades. Ultimately, some semblance of job certainty and economic stability can help pull young people out of a negative feedback cycle that’s currently perpetuating mental health issues among the population, and a healthy and productive workforce should be a concern to us all.