Graduate students: Getting into employment

Many students are uncertain about their employment prospects because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The virus is having a profound adverse economic impact, and predictions of a global recession are widespread. The issues are particularly urgent for final year students and recent graduates.

These case studies describe some of the ideas and practices that universities, colleges and employers have put into place to respond quickly to these challenges.

These interventions have been developed at pace and have not yet been evaluated for effectiveness. Their inclusion is not intended to stipulate particular approaches or endorse the actions of specific institutions. They are offered in the spirit of sharing practice that others may find useful and applicable to their own contexts.

Professional services firm Aon’s chief executive has committed to continuing with the company’s internship programme despite the coronavirus crisis. Interns will join an eight-week programme mixing project work with learning opportunities.

Technology has been pivotal to delivering the programme. The company has a comprehensive learning management system, a Webex conferencing platform and a new reflective video tool.

Interns will receive a full three-day induction, work on live projects and join weekly core and optional learning sessions. Aon has identified managers who are used to working remotely to support the interns.

All interns will be paid, and all assessed during the internship for secure permanent roles with the company when they graduate.

Beautiful Canoe is not-for-profit social enterprise run out of Aston University’s Computer Science department and supported by the Institute of Coding.

Beautiful Canoe provides real project experience to students and recent graduates. The company is preparing to take its next cohort of student employees into a virtual rather than physical work experience scheme. Students recruited onto that scheme are due to start work once exams have been completed and continue to the end of August. These positions will all be paid and will cover the whole life cycle of software development, using the ‘agile’ framework.

The students will work on new and legacy commercial and research projects for Beautiful Canoe’s clients, receiving full technical support and training in virtual environments, as well as coaching on skills to enhance working in a professional environment. 

Students currently on placement at IBM have seamlessly switched to remote working. The company remains committed to its placement programme, with the incoming cohort joining the organisation as planned this summer. 

Placements will start virtually, with a full induction delivered through a mix of live and pre-recorded online content, making the most of interactive tools like Trello boards and Kahoot quizzes. A Slack messaging channel will build a community of placement students, connecting people from different teams and locations across the UK.

The University of Leeds, Coventry University, Lancaster University and the University of the Arts, London are working in collaboration with FutureLearn, as part of the Institute of Coding, to provide short, modular, online digital skills education and training for students who may benefit from upskilling and cross-training.

The courses have enrolled more than 300,000 learners to date.

Manchester Metropolitan University has reworked its third-term enhancement programme. The ‘Learning Pathways’ initiative gives students the chance to participate in activities aligned specifically with employment sectors in the city region, such as wellbeing, education, creative, digital, coding and design.

Each pathway has been co-created with industry and practitioners, and culminates with students creating a project response to video briefs set by advocates from the city region.

Students’ responses will be showcased online, and some participants will also write reflective accounts of their learning to gain additional credits towards their degree.

Students have been keen to engage with this kind of learning, with over 1,500 students enrolling in the programme within a week of launch.

Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts has set up a programme of online showcases to ensure that final year students do not miss out on opportunities in the creative industries. This is particularly important as, ordinarily, 95 per cent of the academy’s students work in their chosen creative field within one year of graduating.

All students graduating this year can participate in online showcases involving self-recorded performances, with staff supporting students where required with direction and accompaniment. The recordings are sent to a database of agents, and to the casting organisations Spotlight and the Casting Directors Guild. Postgraduate students will receive similar support. The trade publication The Stage has also reported on the initiative.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, Swansea University has responded in offering a range of additional support and employability advice for students without family support networks:

  • Providing a £1,000 additional bursary for all continuing students and an additional £1,500 bursary for all graduating students without family support, including care leavers, estranged students and students under 25 with no living parent.
  • Providing guaranteed summer accommodation in our university halls of residence, with the flexible option of extending their contracts on a rolling week-by-week basis.
  • Providing access to discretionary support from hardship funds for continuing estranged students who are seeking to secure accommodation in university halls of residence, but face difficulties meeting the cost of an accommodation deposit or first month’s rent; also, providing eligible students (e.g. new estranged students whose status has been confirmed) assistance with ‘underwriting’ their university campus accommodation deposit.
  • Providing a bespoke newsletter and package of support to graduating students including resources, bespoke advice and signposting to employability support, useful links and top tips on themes of employability, wellbeing, budgeting, accessing financial support, housing options and postgraduate funding.
  • Through partnership working with the university’s Employability Team and local careers organisations, setting up a referrals process for students and graduates seeking employment opportunities to develop their skills via virtual workshops, online careers guidance sessions and virtual peer support groups.

The University of Bath has created the Stay Connected initiative to give graduating students access to an enhanced programme of employability skills, academic skills and wellbeing support.

Resources include:

  • podcasts on building resilience
  • weekly virtual online chats on jobhunting in a volatile and uncertain market and networking
  • online resources on presenting their strengths to a prospective employer, core values and communication skills
  • networking with the Bath alumni community
  • webinars from alumni and other speakers on a range of topics such as volunteering.

There is also a programme of academic skills development to better support students’ transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study.

We have published a full case study on the University of Bradford's first virtual careers fair, held during the coronavirus lockdown. This work is part of a project funded by our industrial strategy and skills Challenge Competition.

The University of Lincoln has launched bespoke workshops to help students consider how the coronavirus pandemic may affect their employability as graduates, and develop skills to help them overcome these challenges. The workshops include:

  • ‘Thinking creatively in a crisis’: This online seminar covers how graduates can use proactive approaches in a career crisis. Through case studies, personal experiences and career theory, the workshop demonstrates creative thinking strategies to overcome difficult hurdles and boost employability. Different approaches to career planning and job hunting during coronavirus are also discussed.
  • ‘Building resilience’: An online workshop including insights and tips on how students and graduates can strengthen their career resilience during the crisis.

We have also published a full case study on how the University of Lincoln has been supporting small and medium enterprises through the pandemic by making student talent more easily accessible. This work is part of a project funded by our industrial strategy and skills Challenge Competition.

The University of Liverpool has worked closely with local NHS partner trusts during the pandemic to ensure that the needs of individual apprentices and NHS trusts are met.

Where trusts have decided that a break in learning is the best option in the circumstances, the university is working closely with the NHS to mitigate the impact on the affected apprentices.

The university has introduced a range of measures to ensure that students and apprentices will not be penalised as a consequence of the pandemic. These measures are particularly relevant to apprentices working on the front line in the NHS. Online learning and conferencing tools have enabled teaching to continue and supported regular meetings between programme staff and apprentices. The university has also introduced alternative modes of assessment where necessary. Recorded lectures, discussion boards and directed online learning have allowed for a more flexible approach to learning, which has helped to support apprentices.

Careers and Employability at the University of Liverpool has recently worked with the Very Group to deliver an Instagram stories takeover event.

University of Liverpool alumni, who work in different departments at the Very Group, worked together to produce engaging content that showcased their roles, the company culture and day-to-day working life.

The takeover proved of interest to viewers, as the story with most views engaged around 40 per cent of the followers, with the average around 500 views. The videos and photos, which gave students a glimpse into the Very Group’s office and working life, also pointed towards the organisation’s Instagram page, which provided students with information on employment opportunities.

Careers and Employability also uses social media to help inspire students to look for jobs and improve their employability skills from home. In partnership with students, it has produced ‘Day in the life’ videos which can help students feel a more personal and relatable connection and provide ideas on the simple tasks they can undertake at home to boost their employability.

A recent example of this kind of content can be seen on the Careers and Employability Instagram page.

The University of Portsmouth’s Careers and Employability Service has introduced:

  • A phone campaign, calling all final year students to offer advice and support into further study and work.
  • A twice-monthly ‘opportunities bulletin’, sent to students, recent graduates and university staff. This highlights job vacancies, gives information about the state of the labour market, and dispels common myths about graduate employment.
  • ‘Opportunities week’ – a programme of activities for the whole student body in June 2020. It will include information on volunteering, part-time and full-time work, and further study.

In the first week of the March 2020 lockdown, staff at the university’s Careers and Opportunities Hub noticed growing concern, particularly among final year students, about how the pandemic was affecting the graduate job market.

In response the university has:

  • Updated resources on the hub, with ‘top tips’ covering a range of topics such as finding graduate employment, writing job applications and CVs.
  • Launched a programme of week-long themed webinars, starting with ‘Applying for opportunities’ in May.
  • Continued one-to-one support, with over 160 online appointments since March.
  • Ensured that from June 2020 a ‘graduate careers pack’ will be sent to every final year student. Webinars are planned for June and July to complement and reinforce the packs’ printed resources.
  • Announced that it will give all graduates careers advice and guidance for life.


The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services: a membership organisation for career development and graduate employment professionals that provides research, training and networks.

Institute of Student Employers: a non-profit membership organisation that works with employers, the education sector and supplier partners. ISE provides support for student recruitment and development, including research, networks and events. ISE is currently offering weekly bulletins highlighting key student labour market issues during the pandemic, as well as running webinars focusing on the coronavirus.

University Vocational Awards Council: a non-profit membership organisation that advocates for members on matters relating to technical and professional learning, including higher and degree apprenticeships. Currently hosting weekly webinars related to coronavirus.

Government guidance setting out a variety of temporary flexibility measures introduced to the programme to support students and providers during the pandemic.

Resources for students

Prospects: Their 'Your career and COVID-19' page provides advice for students preparing for and applying for jobs during the pandemic. It includes tips on increasing your online presence and preparing for phone interviews.

NextStepSupport: A collaboration between several organisations that provide support and services to students. They have a page specifically addressing some of the issue resulting from the pandemic, and provide articles and resources for students including advice on looking for jobs and wellbeing.

National Careers Service Skills Toolkit: The government has produced a Skills Toolkit that provides resources, tools and free online courses. Its list of courses includes introductory, intermediate and advanced courses to help improve digital and numeracy skills.

National Careers Service: This provides information and links to other organisations, including those offering free online learning.

Internship Experience UK: Organised by Bright Network, this is a programme of virtual internships for students and graduates, across a range of careers.

Published 26 June 2020
Last updated 13 July 2020
13 July 2020
One new case study added
03 July 2020
Added links to two case studies from our Industrial strategy and skills Challenge Competition

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