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Pandemic leads to joblessness, uncertainty for new grads

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a standstill in the lives of recent graduates as they attempt to enter the workforce and find lifelong careers. Students who graduated from New Mexico State University in 2020 not only didn’t get to walk across a stage to accept their degrees in front of their friends and family, but they also entered a workforce that had just lost millions of jobs across the country due to COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Ben White on Unsplash.com)

During these unprecedented times, recent college graduates have been struggling with unemployment and uncertainty about what the future holds for them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a standstill in the lives of recent graduates as they attempt to enter the workforce and find lifelong careers. Students who graduated from New Mexico State University in 2020 not only didn’t get to walk across a stage to accept their degrees in front of their friends and family, but they also entered a workforce that had just lost millions of jobs across the country due to COVID-19.

The current national unemployment rate sits at 6.3% as of January 2021 and the New Mexico unemployment rate is at 8.6% as of December according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

New Mexico State University graduate, Molly Schafer, graduated in December and recently made the decision to move in with a friend in a completely different state after her graduation. Finding any kind of a job has proven to be difficult, let alone a career job in her chosen field.

“Those things that I know I would be able to do in a non-COVID world, like be a waitress or work in a coffee shop or something like that, those jobs just aren’t there,” Schafer said.

Many graduating students typically take temporary jobs in the hospitality industry before settling into a career.  They use this time as an adjustment period before going into the “real world.”

NMSU graduate, Molly Schafer, works from her apartment. Schafer, like many recent college graduates, has struggled to find a job after graduating amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Dylan Rottman)

As expressed by Schafer, these jobs are far less available than they were before the pandemic started. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate in the hospitality industry is 13.5% as of February 2021.

It has also been difficult for job seekers to adjust to virtual job hunting with no in-person opportunities to make good impressions on potential employers. Schaffer explained the struggle of doing a job interview over the phone.

“It was frustrating because I felt like I was missing a lot of visual clues as to how I was doing, or how they were reacting to me, and what I said,” she said.

Virtual interactions have also been affecting on-campus resources for students nearing graduation.

Patricia Leyba, director of NMSU’s Office of Experiential Learning, explained how a lack of face-to-face interaction with students has made it difficult to provide post-graduation support. 

“We are certainly more used to engaging with students in person through tabling events, career fairs, career events, etc. Going to a virtual environment has given us an option to engage with students,” Leyba said. “However, virtual fatigue plays a huge role in the lack of engagement, as students had to make the transition to the online environment in all aspects of their academic life.”

Leyba thinks the pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty and confusion for students, making them seem less excited to graduate.

“I think the stress and anxiety of the unknown weighs on students,” Leyba said. “They come to college in hopes of obtaining a degree in a field they love and eventually secure employment with a good salary to achieve their life goals, and the pandemic has created this plethora of unknowns for these young adults wanting to start their lives outside of college.”

“The job I have right now will barely be enough to live on when I get the chance to move out and live on my own,” she said. “It’ll barely pay enough, but it’s a job and it will pay enough.”

According to Leyba, more students are now considering graduate school to wait out the effects of the pandemic. Others are entering the workforce looking for jobs that they are more than qualified for.

Schaffer explained she has also struggled to find well paying jobs. She eventually found a job at a local bank in late January after submitting approximately 130 applications to potential employers.

“The job I have right now will barely be enough to live on when I get the chance to move out and live on my own,” Schaffer said. “It’ll barely pay enough, but it’s a job and it will pay enough.”

NMSU does offer job placement assistance to future graduates through the Office of Experiential Learning.

“Over the past year, through the pandemic, our corporate relations coordinator was able to secure over 1,600 new employer connections,” Leyba explained. “This helped to increase the number of job postings and career events to engage with students to prepare them for post-graduate employment.”

The office has posted over 3,900 full-time jobs on Handshake for students to access.

The Office of Experiential Learning also oversees corporate relations and career events, education abroad, the cooperative education and internship program and the passport acceptance facility.  The Office of Experiential Learning  is located in the Garcia Center in Room 224. To schedule an in-person or virtual appointment, contact the office by email at oel@nmsu.edu or by phone at 575-646-1631.

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