Home COVID-19 Pandemic Why some students are switching career paths because of the pandemic

Why some students are switching career paths because of the pandemic

by Natalie Michie

High youth unemployment rates and an uncertain job market has some students rethinking their plans for the future

a street sign that says "One Way" on it
Many students are finding themselves at a crossroads between chosen career path and what’s available post-graduation (Brendan Church/Unsplash)

It’s not uncommon for students to have anxiety about the future. For some, this type of anxiety can be intensified when they have a big life change coming up — like a graduation. 

Due to the effects of the pandemic over this past year, students are facing one of the worst job markets since the Great Depression. Graduates risk experiencing unemployment when they leave university. In May 2020, student unemployment rates reached 40 per cent — the highest youth unemployment rate since 1976. The lack of opportunities is devastating for those who are leaving school with student loan debt and can’t rely on financial support from their families. This year, students are feeling increasingly uncertain about their futures

With the possibility of not finding a job in their fields of study, some students have decided to pivot from their original career plans. 

“Right now, everyone who’s graduating doesn’t know what to do,” said Sarah Palmieri-Charles, who will be graduating from Ryerson’s Child and Youth Care program this year. The 21-year-old decided to change her career path after noticing the pandemic’s impact on her field. 

“I wanted to be a youth worker, and start working,” she said. Palmieri-Charles planned to travel to Scotland in May 2020 to do an internship, with the hope of staying there after graduating to start her career. “When that was taken away, I just felt like a different life was stripped from me. As soon as COVID-19 hit, there was no point.” 

At the start of the pandemic, there were no opportunities for youth workers in Toronto, which made her feel hopeless. With her upcoming graduation this year, she decided to apply for teachers’ college. Becoming a teacher means more employment opportunities and fulfilling her goal of working with kids, but Palmieri-Charles said she would have loved to be able to follow the career path she’d originally planned.

Among her peers who are about to graduate, Palmieri-Charles said morale is low. There’s a noticeable lack of inspiration. “Everyone’s just stagnant,” she said. 

Emma Hartley, a career education specialist for the Faculty of Communication & Design, said that this is a common sentiment among students currently wrapping up their degrees. “I’m hearing from many students that they are feeling anxious and overwhelmed as they try to balance virtual learning, finding work and the emotional toll the past year has taken,” she said in an email to the Ryersonian

Among students who graduated last year, Hartley said there was an increase in graduate school research and applications. The effects of the pandemic have varied sector to sector, said Hartley, but industries that rely on in-person interactions have been impacted most. She’s worked with students who have had to branch out of their fields of interest to find a job.

Nicole Kanga graduated from Ryerson’s Creative Industries in spring 2020, and recalls feeling “very lost” upon finishing her degree. Her original goal was to become an event planner, but “once the pandemic hit, no events were taking place, and there was kind of a standstill in the industry,” she said.

Kanga was then encouraged by Hartley to assess all of her transferable skills and determine other industries she could apply them to. After starting her own online event planning business and applying to jobs in fields outside event-planning, Kanga landed a job as a consultant for the technology firm NetSuite Oracle. 

“If you had asked me a year ago, if I would be working in the IT industry, I’d be like, ‘you’re nuts,’” said Kanga. “But I absolutely love it. It is the best possible thing that could have happened to me.” She won’t even leave the role she’s in now once life returns to normal.

Being creative in your job search is crucial, said Hartley. This means that being open to the possibility of branching out from the type of job your field of study would typically lead to. 

When the pandemic hit last year, Shannon Schaefer, who is now a fourth-year journalism student, found herself exploring a new career path outside of traditional journalism. “I always knew I was a writer. I knew I was a communicator. But I don’t think I ever knew what that looked like,” she said. After having more time to think about it during the first lockdown, Schaefer decided to write her first book, which will be published later this year. 

She now works full-time as a communications specialist, and plans to stay in this role after graduation, while also continuing to write for future projects. Seeing the way COVID-19 has affected the journalism industry has made Schaefer feel more secure in her decision to pivot away from journalism and into communications. “I’m still in a precarious work field, which is part of being in love with writing, but I’m more confident and secure that I can survive in it.” 

Hartley said students who are unsure about their job prospects should conduct labour market research, to identify what sectors are hiring and what roles are in demand. She cites online resources such as Job Bank and Worxica, and suggests reaching out to hiring managers in your field with questions.

“I think it’s important to diversify the roles, companies, and sectors you’re considering,” said Hartley. “Approach your job search with a sense of curiosity about roles that might be a good fit for your transferable skills that you have not yet considered.” 

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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