The future is dim, and despite our best efforts, all of us will die. That said, we all seek some way to spend our fruitless hours until the long sleep so we go to university, build careers, collect trinkets to pass on to our spoiled progeny, and create make-believe fantasies that we pretend are our lives to sell to other people to make them jealous. With that in mind, Nexus decided that I was the perfect person to seek out career advice. Why? Either the prospects for our dreamlands might help each of us trick ourselves into believing life has meaning or I am the only one of the four editors with a steady job.
Not knowing where to turn with my existential dread, I reached out to the University’s Careers Advisors (yes, we have those) to get some career advice. My logic was if anyone knows anything about the sense of hopelessness and impending dread it would be someone who had to discuss goals with arts majors.
It turns out though, the prospects for the future aren’t as bleak as I thought they were. According to the careers service, there have been few changes to the post-COVID employment market.
“Not that we are witnessing, other than the fact that much of the on-campus employer visits have stopped. Most employers are engaging via webinars instead.”
Although it’s a topic Josh goes into more detail later in the magazine, it seems in the immediate future we haven’t really started to see the impact of a global pandemic. I am wondering as I write this if a small business owner, a taxi driver, or a hospitality sector employee would have the same kind of response. Which leads to the next point. Are there jobs and professions that have (to date at least) proven relatively COVID resistant? The initial answer was a predictable one.
“Health care,” but that was expanded to include“…people services and primary industries” as the obvious ones ”But if we are just thinking employability in any sector it is people who are resilient and flexible, can learn and continue to learn, who can work in cross-functional teams and have multi-disciplinary skills and can navigate technology.”
More than that though there seems a genuine optimism present in the Careers Service that is either refreshing or hopelessly misguided. At one point in the interview they genuinely stated that “Students are still getting jobs” and they didn’t mean that in an online content creators way. Genuine real jobs still out there. I didn’t have the heart to tell them we were in a recession. But even then the advice seemed both intrinsically true and sensible. They continue “There are still heaps of graduate and entry-level roles out there at present. Probably students might have to be better at applications and interviews and need to get better at Zoom and online networking and interviewing platforms. If they are applying and never getting to the next stage they probably need to get help through MyCareer to up their game. This is true at whatever stage they are falling out of the job search application process, so if they get to interviews but not the offer they need help with interviews.”
I noticed the MyCareer plug there but I wasn’t going to call them on it as they were helping me get a better idea of what the world looked like. So I breezed past it. And then made them talk about our future robot overlords. I wasn’t sure whether I was trying to crush their optimism or stop myself from feeling even a modicum of hope for the future. So with a straight face, I asked ‘Beyond COVID there are wider macro trends impacting employment, such as automation and AI. Are you seeing any of the impacts of these?’
They even had an answer for that “Yes, AI and automation, but that’s been going on for a while now. It’s not new. The biggest thing is the speed of change and so the need to be adaptable, flexible, resilient, and open to life long learning experiences. Anything a computer can do better or faster will decline and anything they can’t do – such as those which require complex problem solving and human interaction – will continue to grow. So higher-skilled jobs will continue to grow.”
The positivity continued. Apparently, according to the Careers Service, you can still find jobs in the industry you are studying. More than that there are real things you can do to enhance your CV. “Volunteer, get a part-time job, do internships, job shadowing and work experience, participate in associations, clubs on and off-campus and events that engage them with employers and the community. And network! Basically have as many experiences as possible. This will help you network but also help develop skills and to see where you might like to work.”
So where does all this leave us?
For starters, I may need to be a bit more positive about the world. Yes, there is an oncoming robot apocalypse but those very same robot overlords are going to need humans for things. More than that though I started the piece with a ‘change my mind’ challenge. I’m not convinced it was a mindset materially changed from this conversation but while it is easy to suggest that things haven’t slowed down and that everything is still open and available that seems, broadly speaking, similar to that of horse salesmen when they first saw an advert for a car. 400 jobs are being lost per day and while a lot of those are in the unskilled labour sectors, COVID will have an impact on your job prospects when you leave this place.
It’s great that we can talk about the rebounding economy and just how quickly things might turn around for us but, like the Careers Service we are all just gazing into a crystal ball and hoping. As the great Ray Dalio once said, “Those that live by the crystal ball will eat shattered glass”. The truth of it is that none of us knows what we are walking toward at the end of our degree.
What I can tell you, and what may be the surprising takeaway from my interview with the Careers Service is that you should definitely have a chat with them. They are a hard-working team, who are relentlessly positive even in the face of overwhelming anxiety and their advice is coming from a good place. The reality may be that by the end of the chat you are still unsure of what you want to be when you grow up. But sometimes the external validation of knowing that things might be better than you thought is enough to help you sleep at night.