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Preparing Students To Enter An Unstable Job Market


Graduation season is upon us, but this will be a very different experience for college grads than in recent years. In-person graduation rituals have been postponed or even canceled. And that's the least of it for many students who must now consider the challenge of finding a job during a global pandemic that's thrown more than 30 million Americans out of work in just the past six weeks. Here to talk more about how graduating and current students can prepare themselves to enter the job market during this pandemic is Kamla Charles. She's an employer relations coordinator at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla. Kamla, thanks so much for talking to us.

KAMLA CHARLES: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: What are you hearing from the students that you work with who are about to graduate right now? And I'm guessing you're probably hearing from recent graduates, too, who have been laid off, people you had a relationship with when they were students and who've been laid off. So what are you hearing from them right now?

CHARLES: So a lot of our students are really filled with much anxiety, a lot of fear and trepidation about what is coming next. So a lot of the questions that they have been asking and a lot of the conversations that we've been having are all centered around branding and marketing themselves and also relying on us to provide some connections and to help bridge the gap between companies that we work with, even alumni affairs. So right now, students are trying to think outside of the box and really trying to understand how they can really compete and what are the best next steps for them.

MARTIN: You work as an employer relations coordinator at your college. And I assume that that means that you connect with employers and try to match them up with students. Is anybody hiring right now?

CHARLES: So the short answer is yes. We definitely have employers that are still hiring. But the number of positions that are out there in terms of full-time employment even for internships has definitely decreased. A lot of our employer partners are really kind of taking a pause and trying to kind of take it day by day to see what the economy's going to be doing, when are these restrictions going to be lifted and to figure out a timeline even just for their internal stakeholders before they open it up to onboarding new students, whether they're starting out as an employee or as an intern. So a lot of them are still recruiting. They are still engaged in information sessions. They are still, you know, looking at resumes, but they might not be extending offers quite yet.

MARTIN: So what are you telling students to do?

CHARLES: So right now, I'm telling students to really concentrate on building their skills and not losing momentum because the market is going to be super competitive once everything opens up. So we don't want them to fall behind. We still want them to be activating those networks, still having them engaged in the job search process and still trying to find ways to increase their knowledge and even asking them to consider - OK, how can they impact the community, positively, and how can they show employers that they were really intentional and engaged during this time? Because I know from hearing from employers, they are going to be looking for that. And they are going to be asking those questions when they ramp up their hiring again.

MARTIN: You were a guest on NPR's nightly program called The National Conversation, where we take calls and questions from listeners. And we spoke with a man who had just finished a program to become an aviation mechanic because he believed that this would be an industry that would be recession-proof. Not to be - you know, put too fine a point on it, for people who are trying to decide what to do with their lives now, is there such a thing anymore as recession-proof?

CHARLES: The unfortunate thing about this situation is we can see that there really are no recession-proof careers out there. But I think, overall, everyone has been negatively impacted by this, whether it's emotionally, whether it's financially, physically. So I don't want to take away from the fact that, you know, people are hurting out there, and this is something that we could never have prepared enough for. So, yes, the students definitely have a right to be upset, and they definitely have a right to feel a sense of loss when it comes to this situation. But I really want to encourage them once those feelings have subsided - 'cause they probably will not pass anytime soon - to start to really use this as a practice to explore, internally, and to start to say, hey, you know what? There is still hope.

MARTIN: That's Kamla Charles. She is employee relations coordinator at Valencia College, which is in Orlando, Fla. Kamla, thanks so much for talking with us.

CHARLES: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.