Rethinking their futures and appreciating the freedoms of life out of lockdown. Young people share how COVID-19 has changed their career aspirations.
“They (healthcare workers) stepped up when the chips were down. Not sure I could do that, not brave enough or maybe too selfish, but I wouldn’t like to do those jobs in times like this”.
“This experience has made me rethink my career because of the uncertainty and reliability around keeping a job”.
Everyday we’re hearing more news of COVID, jobs lost and industries shifting. Watching it all unfold whether you are directly impacted or not, is influencing how we think. Our team at CareerHQ has been interested to better understand how this time of change is influencing the hearts and minds of young people. To explore this, we created a survey in April 2020. This article brings together some of the key findings, including the shifting career aspirations and positive lessons that have come out of this time. The majority of survey respondents were between 15 and 17 and we feel lucky to be able to share some of their stories.
Of those who participated in this project, only 7% said that their parents, carers, close friends or family had lost their job due to the COVID-19 virus and related lockdown. The majority had, at this point, not been impacted first-hand by COVID and this is worth considering when putting the below stories into context.
Has this time made you rethink your career options?
With a small number of students selecting that they have been directly impacted by job losses, it would be easy to assume that their career aspirations might also not be directly impacted. What they shared is a little different. 18% said that COVID has made them rethink their career options, 62% said it hasn’t and 21% weren’t sure. When asked to share a little bit more information on this they said, COVID has made me:
- “rethink my career because of the uncertainty and reliability of keeping a job”.
- “realise what industries are essential to work at all times. It kind of highlighted what jobs are fundamental and always stable like health”.
- “realise healthcare is a major industry to invest in”.
- “realise that I want a job that can impact society and be helpful”.
Has this experience made you more or less likely to want to work in essential services?
When asked whether this time has impacted their interest in working in frontline services, 30% said they are more likely to want to pursue careers in these areas, while 26% said they are less likely to want to be involved, and 44% were not sure. Some young people said it increased their want to work in the area because:
- “I want to help people”.
- “I hope to always have a stable income, and healthcare and the police are the crucial ones when you strip everything back like the pandemic has. I did and still have other possibilities in mind, but this all happening just kind of reminded me of that”.
- “I have always wanted to have a specialist role in the police force, but having experienced how COVID-19 has impacted our nation and our community, I am reminded as to why I want to pursue this career path. Having seen how some people are impacted makes me want to help even more”.
- “I think it is my duty to serve and help others in times of a pandemic and in normal times”.
Some of the reasons young people cited not wanting to move into essential services included:
- “Those guys stepped up when the chips were down. Not sure I could do that – not brave enough or maybe too selfish, but I wouldn’t like to do those jobs in times like this”.
- “Because I do not want to put particular health risks on myself”.
Have you become interested in any new subjects or industries?
Approximately one in five young people (21%) said that COVID has made them interested in new subjects and industries. The majority of responses we had related to increased interest in STEM subjects such as science, maths, physics, medicine and nursing. Outside of healthcare, there was little diversity in the subjects mentioned and interestingly only one reference to increased interest in a trade. This was interesting and reinforced from our perspectives the Government push to increase participation in trades, in particular for women.
It appears that the significance of trades as essential building blocks and a stable job/career path is being lost on young people.
What has been the most difficult or challenging part of this experience for you?
Not being able to see friends and studying from home topped the list for the things young people have found the most challenging during COVID. Alongside this, coping with the uncertainty of what’s next, feeling isolated and spending more time inside were also challenges noted. Some of the longer responses we got from students also highlighted a range of the significant and ongoing challenges that are likely to have an ongoing impact on the lives of young people. These stories brought to life the personal and significant challenges many families and young people having been facing. These include:
- “Sick family members being unable to attend hospital safely”.
- “Fighting with my family and mental health getting worse”.
- “Being able to do nothing and the hopelessness of the situation”.
What has this experience made you realise are important to you?
While the challenges of this time have been great, it has also been a time of gratitude and perspective for a lot of young people. Overwhelmingly, friends, family, going back to school and not taking life for granted were themes that came out of the responses. What is clear is that meaning and lessons are already being taken from this experience, and that a shift in priorities and perspective is taking place. For example, what asked what this experience has made you realise is important to you, they answered:
- “My friends & my education with face-to-face learning”.
- “My education is really important”.
- “1. To never take tomorrow for granted 2. To live today like it’s your last”.
- “Family & friendships – immediate and extended. Having a back yard to exercise and play in. Household organisation – my house is always well stocked with toilet paper, and basic staples of rice, flour, pasta, sugar etc. We didn’t need to panic buy and could stay home easily. All families should have these sorts of things.”
- “1. time with other people 2. getting to know myself more”.
- “Friends and family, and being able to make an income for yourself and others”.
- “Don’t take life for granted and look after loved ones more “.
- “My close friends, how I need to see them often or my anxiety levels will rise
- “I missed my friends and I really need more distance from my immediate family.”
- “Just appreciating time at home and with family, basically the simple things in life that we take for granted“.
Bringing it all together
While no one can really predict how the rest of 2020 or even 2021 is going to play out, this data is interesting and a rich insight into how our external world can shift our internal compass. Whether it is providing clarity around priorities and what matters in life, or illuminating pathways and directions that young people hadn’t previously considered, it can at times be easy to underplay the significance of context and environment in changing our lives. A couple of final observations and takeaways when we reviewed the survey data included:
- There is a significant opportunity to promote trades and their link as an essential role, to encourage more young people to consider this as a sustainable long-term career pathway. This is the time to capitalise on reframing and more equally valuing these roles, in particular for women.
- Will one of the impacts of COVID be that young people are less likely to explore the diversity of career options that exist, with a larger portion moving into frontline services as they have rightly so been so heavily publicised through COVID?
- Will students and young people witnessing this pandemic be more likely to hold higher levels of career uncertainty and anxiety around the stability of their careers? Will this create a large-scale risk aversion to thinking differently or working differently? Or on the flip-side will it give young people the feeling that they have to do it differently when they grow up?
- Will interest in STEM increase as a by–product of the pandemic with young people seeing the significance of technology and scientific skills in making a large scale impact on community health?
- In the large scale data sets we’ve created with young people, few have selected politics as an industry of choice. We wonder whether given the significant and highly visible impact government has had on the response to COVID whether perhaps politics and policy may become a more visible and interesting option for young people?
COVID-19 is likely to not just impact the labour market and workers now. The impacts of extended uncertainty and lockdown are likely to impact on the decisions of young people as they move into the labour market over the next 10 years. The real opportunity looks as though it lies in capturing and celebrating the stories of industries growing and skills in demand to encourage young people to explore pathways they had not previously considered.