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National Graduate Survey Reveals Post-Pandemic Career Challenges for Class of 2020

More than half of 2020 graduates saw their employment plans change at some point that year as a result of the pandemic

by Benoit Guesneau
Three women dressed in black graduation caps and gowns walk happily down a trail surrounded by trees.
In 2020, about three in 10 graduates lost their job or were laid off, while nearly one in four had an employment prospect – such as a scheduled interview – cancelled, according to the National Graduate Survey (Pexels/Karolina Grabowska).

Statistics Canada recently published study results from the National Graduate Survey, highlighting unique challenges faced by college graduates amid the initial waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The target population for the study consisted of graduates from public post-secondary institutions in Canada during the 2020 calendar year who resided in Canada at the time of the interview in 2023.

“I don’t think the answer is clear cut,” said Tamara Knighton, the chief responsible for National Graduate Survey at Statistics Canada, when asked whether or not the class of 2020 has gotten back on their feet as a cohort following the pandemic.

According to the study, despite the labour market challenges faced by the class of 2020, their employment rate three years after graduation (90.3 per cent) was similar when compared to 2015 graduates (89.9 per cent).

While the employment rate was similar, said Knighton, there are still differences in other labour market outcomes among those who experienced pandemic-related employment changes.

“They’re less likely to be working full-time. They’re more likely to have lower 2023 full-time employment income, more likely to feel overqualified for their jobs, and less likely to hold a job closely related to their program.”

Aaron Chan, a 2020 Toronto Metropolitan University graphic design graduate, said he felt the pressures of the labour market back in 2020.

“I was stuck working in retail and food service right out of college. And although I felt a little bit stuck, I just used it as motivation to keep applying for jobs. And while it was good that I was making some money, I would argue that it also distracted me a little bit from my career goals.”

Danielle Lamb, assistant professor for human resource management and organizational behaviour at TMU, said remaining in a job that you’re overqualified for can have long-term consequences.

“Because the longer you stay in something where you’re not using the skills you built either from previous experience or education or a combination of the two, the more those skills kind of become atrophied like a muscle not being exercised, and that makes it harder for you to remain competitive in your field with other people.”

Of those surveyed, when it came to college or bachelor’s graduates, more than 50 per cent of them said there were changes to their employment status or plans during the pandemic. For master’s and doctoral students, this statistic was under 50 per cent.

According to a different Statistics Canada study on job security amid artificial intelligence and potential pandemics, triple-protected jobs are less likely to be held by those with a bachelor’s degree than by those with a graduate degree.

Triple-protected jobs are defined as those that don’t have a predetermined end date, have a low risk of being lost or transformed as a result of automation, and are resilient to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While the proportion of employees in triple protected jobs is lower for those with a bachelor’s degree, said Knighton, it’s almost three times higher than employees with a high school education. 

“So for those with a high school education, 22 per cent were in triple protected jobs. Ultimately, I think the decision to pursue further education may be driven by a variety of factors, including personal interest and to enhance one’s career prospects and I just don’t think a one size fits all approach would make sense.”

This article may have been created with the use of AI software such as Google Docs, Grammarly, and/or Otter.ai for transcription.

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