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COVID-19: Challenges for student recruitment

25 March 2020

3D illustration of virions, set against a black background.

Coronavirus is transforming everyone’s working life. ISE’s Chief Research Officer, Tristram Hooley discusses our latest data  on how it’s affecting student recruitment and development.

At the start of the year it would have been impossible for us to imagine that a virus that almost no one had ever heard about would be the number one political and economic issue by the middle of March 2020.

Throughout March the level of threat and the responses to COVID-19 have been steadily ramping up. At ISE we started to hear about how businesses were responding to the coronavirus from early March. We quickly determined that we needed to conduct some research to allow us to move beyond anecdotes and gain a more thorough picture of what was happening.

Today we launch COVID-19: Challenges for student recruitment and development , which examines the impact of the coronavirus on recruitment, hiring, learning and development and working practices within the student labour market. The survey was open between Friday 13th March and Friday 20th March and received responses from 124 businesses from across the UK.

 

Disruptions to recruitment

Employers report that the recruitment process for new entry level staff has been severely disrupted. 40% of employers are concerned that the cancellation of academic qualifications will disrupt their recruitment process.

Employers are also cancelling direct interactions with the education system (e.g. 69% have cancelled visits to universities), work experience placements and are seeking to move as much of their recruitment processes online as possible (e.g. 60% have moved assessment centres online and 71% have moved interviews online).

 

Reduced hiring

Many employers report that they will be recruiting less entry-level hires as a result of COVID-19. Around a quarter (27%) say that they will be recruiting less graduates, 23% less apprentices and school leavers and 31% less interns and placement students. These impacts come on top of a student labour market that is already stagnant. Reductions in hiring may be even more marked in SMEs. Unless this downturn is addressed there is the danger that unemployment and underemployment will grow for the COVID-19 generation who leave education this year and next. 

 

The situation is still unfolding

The responses that employer have given to all of the questions in this survey need to be understood in the light of a rapidly evolving situation. Many openly state that they do not know what their response to the crisis will be or what the likely medium- and long-term implications will be. If those employers who are currently unsure, decide to reduce their recruitment levels, the situation for young people may become critical.

 

Implications for the sector

The findings of this study suggest that COVID-19 is already having a very substantial impact on the student labour market. It is hampering recruitment and dampening down the number of hires planned for this year. In response to this firms have moved quickly to develop strategies and alternative working arrangements and are continuing to explore and develop new ways to work.

The long-term implications are still not clear. Many firms are still developing their approach and the situation is still unfolding. The Prime Minister’s suggestion that the worst of the crisis will be over by mid-June, is perhaps longer than many were anticipating when the crisis began, but shorter than many currently fear. If he is right, then many firms will still be in a position to put recruitment and hiring processes back into place before September. Whether they will choose to do so will depend to a large extent on how badly the economy has been hit by the crisis.

Regardless of what happens, ISE will continue to monitor the situation closely and help its members to share information and build a successful response to the crisis. In times like this it is more important than ever to be well connected and able to learn from the experience of others. By working together and connecting through the ISE, we believe that firms will be able to plot a chart out of this crisis. Whatever happen we remain convinced that the future success of the country and its businesses is bound up with the skills and talents of young people.

 

Read more ISE research