Employability in 2020: the year no-one expected

Rose Watson, Careers & Employability Service Manager

2020 really was the year no-one expected. As you return to your studies you will find the life as a student has changed in a number of different ways, with your employability possibly being one of these.

Whether you are looking for part time work, or preparing for future graduate work, a few things will be different.  You might find it harder to get work in areas which traditionally recruited students, such as retail or hospitality, and you might find companies are reducing their graduate recruitment or placement offerings.

But at the same time plenty of new opportunities are emerging , you just need to know where to look.

Dr Peter Hawkins said ‘When the wind blows some people hide behind walls. Others build windmills.

So how can you be a windmill builder and improve your employability over the next few months?  These are my five top tips:

1. Be an opportunity spotter

If you can’t find work experience in the traditional way, look for virtual opportunities. Lots of job sites have work from home sections, or look out for virtual placements such as with  ratemyplacement.

Other virtual placements might be advertised through myCareer, or check out:

Barclays life skills: work experience in a ‘digital transformation’ organisation, getting to work with others and making decisions.

Inside Sherpa: work experience with company backed virtual internships in areas such as venture capital, investment banking, law, or in sectors such as HR, media and marketing, education and social impact.

2. Upskill yourself

This is a great time to do some of those things you’ve been planning for ages, such as learning to drive, starting a blog or exploring new  interests. Why not improve your digital skills to give yourself a great start in the workplace. Take a look at:

The Skills Toolkit: free online digital and numeracy courses to boost your job prospects, such as  using social media, coding, programming or digital marketing. If the lockdown has shown us one think, it is our digital skills are more in demand than ever before, whichever sector we’re working in. For short courses I’d recommend ‘Presenting your work with confidence’ or ‘How to create great online content’, but for more advanced study, have a look at courses such as ‘Learning to code for data analysis’ and ‘Programming essentials in Python’.

Futurelearn: flexible online courses run by universities, from employability to subject specific courses. Ranging from ‘How to become a lawyer’ to ‘Writing a poem’, to ‘Mental health in sports’; you really need to explore these for yourself, but I particularly liked the shorter digital courses, such as ‘Digital marketing’, ‘Artificial intelligence’, and ‘Web analytics’.

Employers like when you show signs of curiosity and personal development, so make sure you note the courses you complete,  and include on your future CV or applications.

3. Review your career direction. Flexibility is key!

Some sectors have been affected much more than others. Recruitment for public sector areas such as health, social care, and teaching are likely to continue to be strong, with sectors such as IT, professional services, and digital marketing also continuing to recruit well.

Other sectors such as sports, travel, arts, retail and hospitality have been badly affected, and only time will tell how they will fare in the future. If you are looking for work in these areas, you might need to be flexible and also consider opportunities in different areas to begin with. For example, if you had your heart set on sports business management, if the leisure industry continues to be curtailed, consider getting management experience in another sector, with the view to move across to sports at a later stage. All work experience, in whatever sector or at whatever level can provide valuable insight and skills.

Careers anchors can be a good way of thinking about jobs which might suit you. Read our blog here.

Areas where there is currently a particular skills shortage include data science and artificial intelligence. If you are interested in these areas, even though you might not have a relevant degree, check out these funded postgraduate options.

4. Learn to love uncertainty!

Some of us thrive on uncertainty and change, whereas others really struggle with it. You might need to put aside your crystal ball – if the pandemic has shown us one thing, we can’t always predict what will happen.

Often we move forward not by careful planning, but by seizing hold of opportunities that suddenly or unexpectedly arise. Chaos Theory and Planned Happenstance suggest events can be out of our control but it is how you react to them that is important. Qualities such as flexibility, optimism, curiosity and persistence can help you make the most of the situation.

Over the past months we have seen opportunities arise in online learning, digital technologies, home exercise, and health and wellbeing, amongst others. Other gaps in the market will become clear over the next year as previously established industries struggle and others emerge in their place. Make sure you are well placed to contribute to this!

5. Embrace online recruitment:

Like it or loathe it, it is likely that now employers have taken the plunge into the world of online interviews and assessment centres, they are here to stay. Here are some tips on online recruitment.

You won’t be able to avoid online interviews, and some of you may experience virtual assessment centres. Find out more about how to make the most of these by attending one of our virtual workshops.

So, whatever the rest of 2020 brings for you, look out for something new. Build windmills for the changing winds rather than hiding behind walls!  You never know, it might surprise you.

Other blogs you might be interested in:

So what can I do now? COVID-19, career uncertainty and university students


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