Global careering in a post-COVID world

This post was originally published on Luminate in July 2020. In it I ask whether a sensible response to the COVID-19 crisis in the UK labour market would be to go and work elsewhere in the world? Probably not, I conclude, as new research suggests that the problems graduates are experiencing are likely to be reproduced almost everywhere

The impact of the pandemic, lockdown and the oncoming recession looks dire for the UK labour market. The Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) predicts that unemployment will reach 12%1 and the British Chamber of Commerce argues that a third of companies will cut jobs.2

Institute of Student Employers (ISE) research suggests that the graduate market has taken a substantial hit and that the future is uncertain.3 But, these are not just problems that are confined to the UK, as our new research shows, COVID is shaping the experience of graduates across the globe.

COVID matters everywhere

A glance at the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) COVID-19 dashboard reminds us that there are almost 15 million identified cases and 600,000 deaths worldwide.4 Every country has been affected in some way. Meanwhile the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has been tracking the impact on employment and concluded that there is a global unemployment crisis, with young people and entry-level workers bearing the brunt of the downturn in jobs.5

At ISE we joined up with the International Network of Employers and University Careers Services (INEUCS) and asked employer associations, careers professionals and other experts across the world to tell us how their graduate market was fairing in the current COVID climate. We have published our findings in a new report entitled COVID-19: Global impacts on graduate recruitment.

The most striking thing about this research is the similarities that exist between the responses of businesses in different countries.

The story that they told us was stark and concerning. Graduate recruitment volumes are down everywhere. During 2020 many employers have taken the decision to delay or reduce the number of graduates that they are recruiting. This has led to overall numbers of jobs in the formal graduate labour market going into decline in all 21 countries that participated in this research.

Even in countries like Australia and New Zealand which have, so far, successfully managed the outbreak and in other countries where there have been relatively few cases of COVID-19, employers have had to lockdown some of their activities in the short term and have concerns about the longer term impacts.Anticipated growth or shrinkage of the graduate labour market by country

ChangeSo far in 2020Expected in 2021
+1-14%Belgium, Poland, UAE
About the sameCanada, New Zealand, South Africa
-1-14%Australia, England, Finland, New Zealand, United StatesAustralia, Denmark, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Singapore, Slovakia, United States, Vietnam
-15-29%Hong Kong, Ireland, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Singapore, South Africa, VietnamFinland, Hong Kong, Italy, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia
-30%<Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Poland, UAEMalaysia

Most respondents were not anticipating a quick recovery in the graduate market. Looking forward to next year 15 countries expected that the volume of graduates recruited would continue to decline. Only three countries expected that the market would stabilise (Canada, South Africa and New Zealand) and only three more anticipated growth (Belgium, Poland and the UAE).   

What does this mean for careers professionals?

The picture that this research paints of the graduate labour market is deeply concerning. But, it is important that careers professionals don’t allow themselves to get paralysed by fear. Now is the time when students are going to need career support more than ever. So here are some things that you might like to talk to them about.

  • You need to be prepared to apply, be interviewed and even start work online. Across the world businesses have moved recruitment and employment online. Students need to recognise and prepare for this changing reality.
  • Despite the crisis there are still graduate jobs. While the situation is worrying for graduates, it is probably worse for non-graduate entrants to the labour market. There will still be jobs for graduates, this is a recession, not a complete economic collapse.
  • But, the labour market is more competitive, so it is important not to blame yourself. Graduates need to recognise the reality of the current situation and avoid blaming themselves if they find it hard to find the job that they want.
  • People will understand because this is happening everywhere. The global economic crisis is going to provide a very clear reason why some graduates are unemployed or underemployed. A setback now will not define you forever.
  • Mobility is unlikely to provide the answer to graduates career problems. COVID-19 has seen many countries reducing immigration and therefore graduates’ chances of finding a job in another country. What is more our research shows that there is no magical land of graduate jobs sitting somewhere over the rainbow.
  • International students are going to have to deal with similar issues in their countries. The most striking thing about this research is the similarities that exist between the responses of businesses in different countries. International students need to be supported to investigate how recruitment and employment is changing in their country.
  • Politics is really going to matter for people’s careers. The approach that governments take to managing the crisis is going to be very important and may make the difference between a successful career and frustration. Encourage students to understand what their governments are doing, to take advantage of schemes and initiatives and argue for the policies that they believe are needed.


  1. Coronavirus analysis, Office for Budget Responsibility, 2020.
  2. A third of firms to cut jobs in the next three months say British Chambers of Commerce, Sky News, 2020.
  3. Down but not out. How the student labour market is responding to Covid-19, Institute of Student Employers, 2020.
  4. COVID-19 dashboard, World Health Organisation, 2020.
  5. ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. 4th edition, International Labour Organisation, 2020.

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