The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly affected all aspects of life, from public health to the economy. Students of all ages have had their education and exam timetables disrupted, and there is talk of the deepest recession the UK has seen for 300 years, with the impact of this predicted to hit young people particularly hard.
New research commissioned by EngineeringUK has revealed that educational and career aspirations have already been affected by the pandemic, with just over half (52%) of the 15 to 19 year olds asked agreeing or strongly agreeing that going to university would become more difficult and 41% saying the same of becoming an apprentice. 62% of the 11 to 19 year olds asked agreed or strongly agreed that finding a job in the future has become more difficult as a result of the pandemic.
The research makes it clear that the pandemic has had a bearing on young people and the careers they’re thinking about choosing in the future. It reveals over 2 in 5 young people reported that the pandemic has made ‘having a job that you can be certain you can keep’ (44%) and ‘availability of jobs’ (41%) more important to them when considering their future career choices. Considerations such as ‘liking what I do’ and ‘being able to progress in my career’ are sadly lower (33% and 26%).
For some young people the pandemic also appeared to raise the importance of having a job that enabled them to make a positive societal contribution, with around a third of respondents indicating that the pandemic has made ‘having a positive impact on society’ (36%), ‘helping people with the work they do’ (34%), and ‘ethics and social responsibility’ (33%) more important when considering career choices.
Findings from the research, which surveyed over 1,100 11 to 19 year olds, also suggests that some young people felt their career choices have been constrained because of the pandemic. 30% say the careers they could do has changed as a result of the pandemic and 22% say what they wanted to do as a career has changed.
Throughout the survey there were often significant gender differences, with girls/young women more likely than boys/young men to say ‘ethics and social responsibility’ (89% vs 80%) and ‘helping people with the work you do’ (89% vs 79%) were important factors when thinking about jobs they want to do in the future.
Exams, home learning and thinking about future education or careers has been tough during lockdown so the survey also looked at whether young people searched out information online, spoke to their parents or took part in any careers activity during this time, with the results showing a gender disparity. Girls/young women were more likely to have used the time to research their futures – 60% of girls/young women, compared to 49% of boys/young men had taken part in a careers activity during lockdown. 44% of girls/young women had discussed career options with their parents, compared with 30% of boys/young men and 27% of girls/young women compared to just 19% of boys/young men had searched for careers information online.
Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK says: ‘Young people are going to be greatly affected by the pandemic for years to come and they are well aware of it. To hear that children as young as 11 are concerned about their ongoing education and careers is not what anyone wants, but their interest in job security and availability is balanced by an increased desire to benefit people and society.
“It is encouraging that the pandemic has resulted in young people being considerably more interested in a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). Young people know about the role that engineers have played in efforts to combat the pandemic – we need to translate this insight into career aspiration. Interest in engineering careers lags behind that in science and technology so we need to emphasise the opportunities, as the country invests in its infrastructure and net zero, and provide young people with every opportunity to hear about and experience the breadth and societal impact of modern engineering.
‘STEM outreach and work experience needs to be targeted to the schools and students that need it most, including those who are underrepresented in the STEM and engineering workforce and those that are most affected by the pandemic. We need to give these young people the opportunities they deserve and, in turn, we need them to ensure the diversity of thought for a thriving future workforce.
‘We ask that organisations that have been resilient to the impact of the pandemic go above and beyond, supporting young people who may join with their future workforce and that of the wider system – from their supply chain to the wider economy. I also encourage the government to be bold, ambitious and experimental in its support for the next generation and to treat diversity as a priority not as a ‘nice to have’. Together, we can do this and, I truly believe, make a real difference to these young people’s futures”.
The findings report, Young people and Covid-19: How the pandemic has affected careers experiences and aspirations, is available online at www.engineeringuk.com/ypcovid