If you graduated during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and, like me, you’re still looking for work, chances are you’re feeling a little shell-shocked. Where are all the jobs? When do I start “adulting”? There are many things that have been tough about this pandemic that we’re collectively experiencing. And one of those things is that the world feels a little unwelcoming to new workers trying to start their careers, which is why I reached out to Professor Anthony Carnevale.
Professor Carnevale directs the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. He has a long history studying issues related to education and the work environment.
I spoke with Professor Carnevale about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on students and to get some firsthand insight into how our college system is performing when it comes to preparing graduates for employment.
This conversation was edited for length and clarity.
Ugonma Okoroafor: Transitioning from college to jobs is challenging under the best of circumstances. What have you noticed about how the pandemic is affecting the experiences of recent graduates like me?
Anthony Carnevale: In normal times, if you have a recession, everybody goes back to school because school is a good place. It’s a safe haven and a place where you can build your human capital until the jobs come back and you enter the labor market at the most optimal time: when jobs are growing. What is different about this recession is that it’s not so easy because the pandemic affects the ability of schools and colleges to function.
There are people going back to school and you see that especially in graduate education. This is an ideal time to get that masters degree that you may have needed. This is an ideal time to do that, even if you have to do it online. The only tricky part is, the only people who can afford to do it are people who have some sort of income support.
UO: What specific supports should colleges offer?
AC: Full wraparound supports. There are people who have housing problems. There are people who can’t get access to food. Most students need some sort of financial counseling because they are borrowing money. Above and beyond all that, they need counseling on the education and career pathways they are choosing.
And that shouldn’t begin with a focus on the career. Good counseling always begins with the students themselves. That is the first thing you want to know is who this person is. Then you want to know their interest, their values, their purpose, personality strengths and what their weaknesses are, and what that means for what they wanna do.
There’s a missing link in the system and in times like these it becomes obvious that it’s missing.
UO: What are some strategies for reducing stress for students who haven’t found jobs yet and are worried they won’t?
AC: Do the best you can to build the support network and seek advice from counseling or wherever you could find it.
Students aren’t more stressed than other people, but they are just as stressed as other people. As students, they don’t really get to deal with it. There’s nobody on campus there to help them deal with it. They may have healthcare and can use coverage for seeing a psychiatrist, psychologist and counselors. But oftentimes they do not, so there is a missing piece.
America is an individualistic culture. Our bias is that you make it because you’re worthy, and if you don’t make it, it’s because you’re weak. We always notice that the people that are worthy are from the most prosperous families where they get this kind of assistance one way or another.
One piece of counseling I would give any young person at the moment is be as selfish as you can be. No one is taking care of you, and no one’s going to. So don’t start to get loyal to employers. If someone gives you a job and it’s a lousy job, the minute you can get out of it, get out of it.