Report Overview

The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a considerable impact on Britain’s job market. Job vacancies have reduced by 65% compared to the same period last year, with thousands of jobs already lost, and just under a third of businesses planning to cut the size of their workforce in the next three months. Young people entering the job market this year are likely to be particularly badly hit, with youth unemployment following the 2008 recession twice that of the overall unemployment rate.

People from lower socio-economic backgrounds are already under-represented in the professional workforce, with those in Britain’s top jobs five times more likely to have attended a private school than the population as a whole. With fewer opportunities available to graduates, the pandemic is likely to have a considerable impact on access to the professions, and consequently on social mobility.

This is the final brief in a series which examines the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on different areas of social mobility. How has the crisis affected new graduates and their ability to enter the workplace, particularly those from disadvantaged communities?

This report comes alongside our new Employer’s Guide to Social Mobility, which provides practical ways for employers to promote social mobility in their workplaces.


Almost half of students say they're less likely to find a graduate job because of Covid-19.


The proportion of employers who have cancelled work experience placements this summer.


The proportion of employers who say that social mobility will be more of a priority in the next two years.

Key Findings

Opportunities for young people to get experience of the workplace have been impacted considerably by the COVID-19 crisis. Many firms who previously offered internships or work experience placements have cancelled them, with just over three fifths (61%) of employers surveyed cancelling some or all of their placements.

• The impact on internships and other placements is set to last beyond the immediate crisis. Almost half (48%) of organisations surveyed think there will be fewer of these opportunities in their businesses over the next year.

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) were the most likely to have cancelled internships and work experience placements, with 49% doing so, compared to just 29% of larger employers.

• Research from previous economic downturns suggests the current economic crisis is likely to have a considerable impact on young people entering the job market this year. However, so far, the pandemic appears to have had a mixed impact on employers’ plans for graduate employment going forward. While a sizable proportion of the graduate employers surveyed said they are expecting to hire fewer (33%) or no (6%) graduates over the next year, 27% anticipated hiring more.

• Current undergraduate students are however already feeling the impact of the crisis. 46% said the pandemic has had a negative impact on their ability to gain graduate employment; including 18% having had work experience placements cancelled or postponed, 15% citing reduced access to their university careers service, 11% having interviews cancelled, and 4% having a job offer withdrawn.

• With far fewer opportunities likely to be available in the workplace in the aftermath of the pandemic, promoting social mobility and fair access to those that remain will be more important than ever. Encouragingly, just under a third (29%) of the employers surveyed said social mobility and socio-economic diversity would be more of a priority in the next two years in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Employers outside of London were considerably less likely to say that social mobility would be more of a priority for their sector going forward (22% compared to 48% of London-based employers).

Employers surveyed were mixed on whether the pandemic will make it easier or harder for their sector to take action on social mobility. Almost a quarter (23%) said it would make taking action on social mobility in the workplace more difficult, with just under half (49%) saying it would have no impact.

• Due to the pandemic, the majority of students have had a prolonged period of time outside of education this year, with the largest impacts felt by those from the poorest backgrounds. Employers surveyed were divided on whether firms would take time missed from education into account in any future hiring decisions. A sizeable proportion of employers (44%) said employers in their sector were likely to do so, however a similar proportion (42%) said they were unlikely to.


For employers

1. Social mobility should not suffer because of the pandemic. With fewer jobs likely to be available, employers should redouble efforts to open up opportunities to the best talent. This should include paying and openly advertising internships, contextualising recruitment practices and monitoring the socio-economic background of the workforce. Employers can find detailed advice on actions they can take to improve social mobility in our Employer’s guide to social mobility in the workplace, released today.

2. Employers should work to keep the pipeline into their industry open, including where possible moving experiences online. Where internships, work experience placements or recruitment processes are moved online, employers should ensure they remain accessible, for example by providing tech equipment if needed. Interns and those doing placements should still be paid for their time, ideally at the Living Wage.

3. When moving recruitment online, employers can use it as a chance to widen the pool of young people reached. An opportunity has arisen with the shift to online recruitment, with employers able to reach large numbers of young people, without geographical restrictions. Businesses should make full use of the move to online delivery to reach a wider pool of talent.

4. In future, employers should take into account that many students have missed time in education due to the pandemic. Young people who have not been able to access online learning or impacted by missed exams should not be disadvantaged compared to those from other year groups. This will be particularly important for young people entering the world of work this year, but will continue to be an issue for years to come.

5. Where possible, employers should top up wages for young people on the government’s Kickstart scheme, from the National Minimum Wage to the Real Living Wage, to ensure all young people are able to access and benefit from these opportunities.

For government and universities

6. The government should put in place specific support for graduates, including incentivising employers to offer paid internships with graduate employers, to ensure that talent is harnessed. Youth unemployment will not be restricted to those with lower qualifications. Tailored support for graduates could form part of the government’s recently announced Kickstart scheme, with Kickstart Grads prioritising those the most at risk, for example graduates who have already had a period of unemployment, and those from families on low incomes who were eligible for the full maintenance loan when at university.

7. Government should ensure high quality careers advice, applicable to graduates and those entering professional careers, is available. This could be done through providing referrals to specialised recruitment agencies from job centres.

8. Financial support for postgraduate study should be increased for young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. More graduates are likely to opt for postgraduate study this year while waiting for the economic situation to improve, but due to the low level of financial support available and fewer options for part time work, this option will be unaffordable to many. This is a particular concern for graduates from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who will be less able to draw on their families for financial support. The government should increase the master’s loan for the next academic year for graduates from poorer backgrounds, to match the amount available for undergraduate study.

9. University career guidance should be fully accessible online, prepare for the move to virtual recruitment, and have a particular focus on those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Students graduating this year will face a difficult job market, universities should do all they can to give them help and support, even when they are unable to come to campus. Support should also be updated to include help with remote recruitment, including video interviews.

Read our free guide to how to improve your organisation’s socio-economic diversity.