From restaurants to vacation spots to movie theater chains, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a notable impact on businesses that often supply entry-level and early-career jobs to younger U.S. workers.
Headlines describing such closures have continued now more than six months into the pandemic. Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the owner of Regal Cinemas, the second-largest chain of cinemas in the country, was suspending operations at all of its U.S. locations amid a lack of new releases and financial strain. Though some Regal locations were later reported as having decided to stay open, according to entertainment news outlet Deadline, the Journal said thousands of workers could be impacted by the announcement.
Those hoping for entry-level work in other fields face similar challenges. A May study of job listings on Glassdoor found that the number of available technology industry positions that included the phrases "entry level" or "new grad" in the job title declined 68% year-over-year. Overall, unemployment remains higher for younger workers; while the national employment rate sat at 7.9% in September, the same figure stood at 15.9% for workers ages 16 to 19 and at 12.5% for those ages 20 to 24, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While the current situation may seem grim for younger workers, sources who spoke to HR Dive said there are still plenty of opportunities for such workers to build career skills and fill their resumes. And as the job market shifts in favor of employers, recruiters may not see much negative impact on their talent pipelines in the short-term — if they can adjust hiring practices accordingly.
Seasonal opportunities provide a boost
"We're seeing a glimmer of hope," said Vicki Salemi, career expert at job site Monster. Salemi noted that Monster has seen entry-level job listings return to a level comparable to before the pandemic, largely thanks to seasonal opportunities.
Retailers, for example, are adapting seasonal hiring strategies to accommodate for the growth of e-commerce ahead of this year's holiday shopping season. Amazon announced last month that it would hire some 100,000 full- and part-time workers across its fulfillment and logistics network in the U.S. and Canada. Target said in September it would "double" the number of store workers who operate the company's "Drive Up" and on-site pick up programs to handle increased demand, and it said it would hire more workers to handle store safety initiatives.
Seasonal positions may only offer a temporary step in the career journey of younger workers, but they "may perhaps be leveraged into a full-time opportunity," Salemi said. Candidates will likely look to roles that allow them to network internally and that generally provide a good cultural fit, she added.
But younger workers are adjusting their search in other ways, according to Casey Welch, founder, president and CEO of Tallo, a networking platform that connects students and employers. For example, many are deciding to apply for remote positions, Welch said. Tallo's August survey of Generation Z members found that 39% of respondents considered geographic location to be "very important" in considering a job opportunity, compared to 51% who said the same in the company's December 2019 survey.
Still, many are postponing long-term plans. "More and more Gen Zers are taking gap years before committing to long-term educational or employment plans, which in turn creates openings for employers looking to fill part-time or entry-level jobs," Welch said. "As young workers are re-evaluating their next steps, companies can help them turn that gap year into a 'leap year' by emphasizing benefits like tuition assistance and professional development programs."
Employers can still make adjustments
Employers shouldn't be worried about COVID-19's long-term impact on entry-level positions as far as their talent pipelines are concerned, Salemi said. Younger workers can still learn valuable soft skills in areas like communication and leadership that can boost their careers, and employers can train future employees on more technical aspects of their jobs in the long run, she added.
But even for those not concerned about hiring entry-level talent in the short term, it may be advisable to connect with younger workers anyway, according to Welch; "When it comes to keeping a full pipeline, the key is finding ways to connect with talent earlier. The good news is that the vast majority of Gen Z wants to connect with future employers regardless of whether they have an immediate job opening."
The current talent market may mean recruiters have more applicants to consider, but "quantity does not replace quality," Salemi said. Employers should also "dig deeper" beyond resumes when evaluating younger candidates, looking for quality internship experience and other activities such as campus leadership and study abroad experience. Employers can also ask what candidates have done during the pandemic to better their skill sets, such as taking online classes.
Companies should consider rethinking their expectations of younger candidates as well, Welch said, particularly as educational institutions shift to online learning. "For young workers, helping younger siblings with at-home learning or starting a virtual volunteering group may be the future of displaying responsibility and leadership, rather than a commitment to a school sports teams or summer job," he noted.
Such shifts could also inform how employers reach out to and recruit entry-level candidates, Salemi said. Research published earlier in the pandemic by recruiting platform iCIMS found that 95% of U.S. college seniors expected to hear back from an employer in less than two weeks. That could bode well for employers who have opted for quicker, virtually-integrated hiring processes in recent months.
"This is the only normal that they know," Salemi said of younger candidates' adaptation to the online nature of hiring during COVID-19. "Understand that these candidates are digital natives and are adept at this."