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Thanks to COVID-19, I Do (or Don’t) Have a Job

University graduates, how is the job market looking for you in this seemingly end-emic era? That’s the question I proposed to seniors in various majors at the University of Pittsburgh, and the responses I received are just as varied as their majors.

Soon-to-be Pitt graduates are entering a job market that’s recuperating after what has hopefully been the worst of the COVID-19 outbreaks.

During the height of the pandemic, clearly some industries were thriving while others were merely surviving. Workers were either deemed essential or furloughed. Since essential workers were risking their lives on the front lines and, eventually, less people were working overall, hourly pay across industries soared well above minimum wage.

What’s more, COVID-19 created a tremendous opportunity for some of those in the workforce: remote work. The opportunity to work remotely has expanded job opportunities, but this expansion exists within limited parameters. Remote options for many positions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are near impossible due to the hands-on nature of the work.

Rebekah Colacot is a 21-year-old Pitt senior looking for work as a research neuroscientist. She tried to search for remote work in her field, but was unsuccessful in her endeavors.

“Especially with neuroscience and research, the few [remote options] that were and are available are so competitive that I would need at least a Master of Science in order to beat the competition,” she said about remote opportunities in her field.

Colacot disclosed that this competition was partly because of the expensive training that employers would require for their remote employees. However, other industries—like the corporate business world—don’t bat an eye at remote work, even welcoming a work from home lifestyle as it has its own advantages for both employees and employers.

According to a study conducted by Stanford, employee productivity can increase up to 13 percent by working from home. This increase in performance is attributed to a quieter, more convenient working environment as well as fewer breaks and sick days. This study also observed that employees reported improved work satisfaction, and attrition rates were cut by 50%.

As a graduating Pitt senior and marketing major in the College of Business Administration, I can personally attest that navigating the job market right now is akin to being on a rollercoaster.

On one hand, there seems to have been an excessive amount of remote work opportunities. In the heat of the pandemic, I was blessed to have two remote internships that were not designed to be virtual opportunities had the pandemic not occurred.

It’s crazy to think that I started to work with a team in July 2020 and I never met the team members in person until September 2022. But I know more than a handful of other business students who were in similar situations at some point in the past two years.

Many business students were offered once-in-a-lifetime remote work opportunities, including accounting internships with one of the Big Four and marketing internships abroad. Such opportunities may not have otherwise been realistic due to unreasonable commutes or limited office space.

While competition still existed for these positions, the virtual nature of work at home allowed for more interns to be welcomed at some of the most desirable companies.

Although the office is making a comeback, virtual work is still available and many Pitt Business seniors are hoping to ride that wave for as long as they can. Along with being convenient, remote work gives employees the freedom to work wherever as well as whenever.

The ability to travel and have a flexible schedule are two concepts that can make employees swoon. Having these benefits seem to be a privilege for only those working in industries that do not require hands-on in-person work.

On the other hand, an interesting phenomenon is occurring in which companies—even those that allowed remote work during the pandemic—are backing away from offering virtual opportunities. Now that many restrictions like social distancing, face masking, and quarantining are being lifted, companies are encouraging in-person work over remote work.

Some of these companies are even limiting—or going as far as prohibiting—remote work as offices reopen their doors. In comparison to a year ago, the job market for my industry feels as if it is slowly contracting to its pre-pandemic state before it was inflated by remote work. While I am not scared to step into the job market at this current moment due to the overwhelming amount of marketing positions available, I am aware that remote work opportunities are seemingly being revoked.

If this trend were to continue, myself and many others currently working remotely would be placed between a rock and a hard space. If my current employer were to revoke the remote aspect of my position, then I would need to relocate closer to the office. Because relocating would be an onus, I am cautious to say yes to remote work after graduation.

All that to say, nothing is clear about the current job market, evidenced by the struggles—or lack thereof—that university graduates are experiencing as they enter the workforce.

Depending on their major and the specific subset of the job market in which they are entering, students are encountering newfound difficulty or ease of finding a postgraduate job. In each industry, there are a variety of forces at play, and only time will tell how the job markets for specific industries were impacted by this pandemic.

Until then, congrats to all graduates—here’s hoping that thanks to COVID-19, you do have a job.