Freshers stare at an uncertain future as Covid hits job market

According to the All India Survey on Higher Education 2018-19, over 23 million students are enrolled in undergraduate-level programmes across universities and colleges.
Passengers wearing protective masks travel on an escalator at an airport terminal following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New Delhi, India, March 14, 2020.(REUTERS)
Passengers wearing protective masks travel on an escalator at an airport terminal following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New Delhi, India, March 14, 2020.(REUTERS)
Published on May 11, 2020 06:37 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByDeeksha Bhardwaj

In the midst of lay-offs, a possible economic contraction and shrinking job opportunities, a sense of fear and uncertainty is palpable among the Class of 2020, who will enter a world changed by the Covid-19 crisis to look for their first jobs.

According to the All India Survey on Higher Education 2018-19, over 23 million students are enrolled in undergraduate-level programmes across universities and colleges. A section of these students, pursuing their last year of the programme, will graduate in August as per University Grants Commission guidelines for central universities, while states are still determining their own exam schedules.

The students now fear that the job market will dry up as companies pause hiring to recoup the losses that piled up as the economy ground to a halt in an attempt to check the disease spread.

“We were lucky our placements happened in February,” said Indranil Palit, a third-year computer science student, who has offers from two top-tier companies. “We’ve signed a letter of intent but there is no news regarding offer letters. We were scheduled to join August. We fear they may rescind the offer.”

Third-year marketing student Sneha Roy, however, changed her plans to focus on a Masters instead. “It makes no sense to go for a job at present. The pay scale in the commerce sector has been on a decline in any case,” said Roy, a student at St. Xavier’s University, Kolkata. “Many of my friends and I will be focusing on a Masters programme since the offers we have received are not what we expected.”

Industry experts say the situation is set to take a particularly dire turn, as the economy will open slowly and at rock bottom.

“We have to realise that the job market was in extremely poor shape even before we entered the Covid-19 crisis,” said human development economist Santosh Mehrotra, who has recently authored Reviving Jobs: An Agenda for Growth. “In 2018, unemployment was at a forty-five year high, it will only get worse, since we are likely to see an economic contraction, that is, the growth rate will fall below zero.”

According to Mehrotra, in 2018, the unemployment rate for secondary educated people was 14.4%, for those with technical degrees it was 37% and 36% for graduates. “These rates are double those found in 2012,” he said.

“In 2018, we had nearly 30 million people who were unemployed,” said Mehrotra. “I expect the number to rise by another 50 million this year.”

“Unemployment will at least double for new entrants this year, it will be catastrophic,” he added.

Manish Sabharwal, chairman and co-founder of Teamlease Services, one of India’s largest staffing and human capital firm concurred with Mehrotra that the job sector may see a decline but reserved his judgment until the lockdown is lifted.

“It will depend from industry to industry,” said Sabharwal. “We will have to see if the recovery is in a V-shaped, U-shaped or a bathtub curve, bathtub being that the particular sector spends a long time at the bottom.”

Sabharwal added that the sunrise would be a ‘gentle one’, as companies will be biased towards retaining present employees and not hiring new ones at the moment.

“We are definitely going to see salary adjustments and job losses,” said Sabharwal. “Hospitality, retail and airlines will take a hit. But the impact will be distributed across the board.”

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022