Graduates entering the workforce during the pandemic may be in for a shock

Compared to other job seekers of previous recessions, they may not be as affected long-term

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By Hannah Snider 

One year into the pandemic, post-secondary graduating students fear they are entering an economy of unprecedented unemployment and a financial recession.

As of March, the national unemployment level rose to 9.4 per cent. The highest rate since August 2020. British Columbia closed out the year at 8.8 per cent unemployment, nearly doubling from 2019.

Some experts say graduates entering the workforce, have nothing to worry about.  Compared to other recessions throughout Canadian history, economically the country is in good shape.

According to W. Craig Riddell, an economics professor at UBC who studies economic displacement and unemployment, the decline in the economy is a direct response to the decline in demand since the start of the pandemic.

Pandemic recovery straightforward compared to other crises

While many employees stopped going into the office and started working from home, other sectors such as tourism and hospitality, were affected more directly.

“It’s been extremely uneven across the economy and that is very different than other downturns,” Riddell said.

In many ways, it has made recovery far more predictable and swift compared to other economic crises Canada has seen, he said.

“The return of the economy during the pandemic has been extraordinary. We [saw] a huge, enormous drop in March and April last year. And by even July or August, we saw a substantial amount of recovery happen [and again] during September and October.”

As a third wave of COVID-19 infections makes its way across the province, it may still be a while before life returns to normal, but Riddell believes graduating students shouldn’t be as affected long term as graduates of previous recessions.

“People graduating during a recession don’t do as well in the first few years. They take longer to get a foothold in the job market,” Riddell said. “Whether that will be true in the COVID era is hard to say because the downturn and recovery is just so different than other previous recessions.”

Recession graduates often have worse outcomes

According to Jesse Rothstein, an economist and professor at the University of California, Berkley, those who graduate and start their careers in recessions generally have worse economic outcomes than those who graduate in times of growth.

In his paper, “The Lost Generation? Scarring after the Great Recession”, published May 2019, Rothstein said, “Graduates who started their careers in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008, for instance, had lower employment rates and lower earnings all through their first decade after college compared with people at the same age who graduated before the recession hit.”

Saige Flaumitsch is graduating from the family and community counselling diploma program at the Native Education College in Vancouver. She is concerned the lack of proper, in-person training, might make her less desirable to a potential employer.

“My teacher will tell us not to go in person, so we don’t get a lot of [client] interaction.”

There has been a demand for counselling services during this time. However, Flaumitsch said there are still barriers to obtaining a job right away, especially in the beginning of the pandemic when she said the staff at counselling centres were working from home and getting training was nearly impossible.

Flaumitsch is hopeful as the demand for counselling and outreach services continues to rise over the next few years, there will be a job for her.

“I live on the Downtown Eastside myself and with the first wave of COVID, there was no supports for me. I think they are realizing there needs to be more supports in place,” Flaumitsch said.

— with files from Meg McLachlan

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