Graduates could feel coronavirus economic fallout for a decade, experts warn

University graduates are entering the workforce in Australia's first recession in 30 years, and economists say they could be grappling with the fallout for a decade.

The coronavirus-induced shutdown and growing unemployment will likely impact students completing university for the next two years, professor of economics at University of Melbourne Jeff Borland said.

"If you're trying to get into the labour market during a downturn it actually casts a long shadow ahead, some studies say it could be up to a decade."

He said more young people would be working part-time, outside their area of training and spending longer in education.

Being unemployed today increases the chance of being unemployed in the future, Professor Borland said.

"Maybe you lose skills, maybe you lose motivation, the fact of being unemployed may create a stigma for people hiring you."

And those in a job might start further down the ladder and spend longer climbing it than their skills reflect.

'First to be fired, last to be hired'

Lines outside of Centrelink in Braddon. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Lines outside of Centrelink in Braddon. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Senior economist for the Centre of Future Work Alison Pennington said that historically, young people bore the brunt of economic crises.

"They're the first to be fired and last to be hired."

Young people have been hardest hit by job losses throughout the pandemic. In the ACT, 11.9 per cent of people aged 20-29 lost their job between March and May, and 9.9 per cent nationally, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

"All of the trends indicated employers were taking on less entry level workers before this crisis, they will be accelerated," Ms Pennington said.

She said job pathways for new graduates had been severed, and it would be up to government-created jobs in the public sector to protect young Australians from long-term unemployment.

"In the past, thinking back to the 1940s coming out of the depression, government has stepped in to create direct jobs in the public service," she said.

"There will be profound economic costs and social costs in Australia if we don't immediately repair job pathways for young people."

As many students are expected to return to study in a bid to be prepared for the work force, Ms Pennington said young people were already over-skilled.

"We have an already over-educated young workforce who don't have meaningful jobs to apply their hard-earned skills," Ms Pennington said.

"One of the key trends we saw after the [Global Financial Crisis] ... was young people were going back to university. We've seen an explosion of post-graduate qualifications."

Ms Pennington was "baffled" the government hadn't implemented policy to create jobs for young Australians, particularly given a reliance on a migrant workforce that would dwindle as borders remain closed.

"They've not made education accessible, but also are not creating jobs on the other side," she said.

"It's completely self-defeating for us to let a generation of young people languish without being able to apply their skills."

'When you've just graduated, you're already at the bottom of the pile'

ANU law graduate Grace Bramwell has been told by several employers new graduates are already on the back foot. Picture: Tom Fearon/ANU

ANU law graduate Grace Bramwell has been told by several employers new graduates are already on the back foot. Picture: Tom Fearon/ANU

Grace Bramwell had a job lined up before she had graduated with a law degree from ANU, but faced with a tough choice when coronavirus struck, and she decided to give it up.

A member of the class of 2019, Ms Bramwell entered an already challenging job market for new graduates in a role at the NSW Land and Environment Court.

"At the end of March I resigned because of COVID-19," she said.

Without a support system in Sydney and a family in Victoria who needed her, Ms Bramwell understood the potential risk of the decision she made, but said it was the right one for her.

"I felt a bit reckless ... in this climate, but particularly for lawyers, it's already difficult enough to find a job in the legal profession, let alone with COVID-19," she said.

"My values are to put family and mental health first. I wasn't able to do that in Sydney."

Five weeks of unemployment and almost 30 job applications later, Ms Bramwell has started a job she loves at the Victorian Law Reform Commission.

With a degree from one of Australia's top universities and a resume loaded with experience, she still struggled to get a foot in the door.

"A lot of the time they were saying there was 500 or 600 applicants per position and when you've just graduated you're already at the bottom of the pile. It's not much hope really," she said.

Ms Bramwell plans to spend the next five years learning as much as she can before taking on a masters in environmental law and becoming a barrister.

Acutely aware she is among a generation of workers that will be impacted by COVID-19 for decades, Ms Bramwell is taking every step she can to thrive in the workplace.

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"Rather than be too worried about it now, I'm going to be present and really enjoy this opportunity and make good connections."

A lagging job market could send University of Canberra graduate Adiari Ezekiel-Hart back to study.

He completed a degree in Architecture last month, with a plan to find a part-time job while he applied for work in firms.

The job hunt has been at a standstill since so many employers shut down when restrictions came into place.

He is also unsure how quickly he could find work in the industry he is trained in.

"Because of the virus studying became more of an option for me," he said.

This story 'A long shadow ahead': The people who could feel virus fallout for a decade first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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