Blog post about COVID-19 questions

It is that time of the year when those conducting career follow-up surveys get to the best part of the process – analysing the results of the autumn 2020 survey. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly gave the year a twist and, fortunately, the career monitoring group was awake and prepared last spring. The group decided to include a few questions about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the survey.

There has been a lot of public discussion regarding how unfairly the pandemic and the COVID-19 restrictions have impacted different industries: online retail and grocery stores have thrived, whereas restaurants and the event and tourism sector have taken a blow. Universities switched quickly to a remote working model and are still on that path. I am sure you can guess where I am writing this piece from: I am in my own living room accompanied by my snoring dog. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the working population in various ways: the number of teleworkers increased significantly in Finland, while the unemployment situation of young women in particular has reportedly worsened. Young women often work in fields and jobs that do not allow them to work from home. As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, these jobs have disappeared.

One could presume that highly educated people have fared reasonably well during the pandemic, since many experts, teachers and professors can work from home thanks to virtual solutions. Now, let us stop guessing and dive into the data on the pandemic’s impact on the academic labour market!

I will concentrate on analysing only one of the coronavirus-related questions included in the career follow-up survey:

 1. Did the coronavirus pandemic and the economic restrictive measures impact your employment between 1 March and 30 September 2020?  Options: 1. yes, 2. no, 3. do not know

In total, slightly over 6,500 people responded to the career follow-up survey (warm thank you to everyone)! 16 per cent (1,012) of the respondents replied ‘yes’ to this question. The coronavirus pandemic and the economic restrictive measures had had an impact on their employment between March and September.  84 per cent of the respondents stated that the restrictions did not affect their employment. As a career counsellor, I am very relieved that the pandemic has not impacted that many of our alumni.

What kind of group of people does this 16 per cent consist of then? First of all, nearly two thirds of this group were women (64 per cent). Almost as many (60 per cent) were under the age of 35. In other words, young women!  If we examine their educational background, the majority of the group had graduated from a technical field (18 per cent) and almost as many (17 per cent) were arts alumni. The restrictive measures had the greatest impact on design, development and administrative workers (19 per cent), educational experts (16 per cent) and people working with customers or patients (15 per cent). In terms of the size of the respondents’ employer, one third worked for a large (over 250 employees) company and one fourth for a small or medium-sized company. Approximately half of the respondents were employed by the private sector. The third largest segment (20 per cent) worked in the municipal sector. I would be interested to learn the actual industry of these companies but this information was not provided by the survey. If the industry were known, it would help explain why so many of the respondents represented the design, development and administrative sector. To me, they seem like jobs that would be easy to perform even remotely.

This is the big picture. The groups varied in size, which is why it is important to examine each group in more detail. Women represent the clear majority of the respondents (64 per cent of all respondents). If we divide the respondents by gender, we can see that the ratio for both groups is the same: the COVID-19 restrictions had had an impact on 16 per cent of both male and female respondents! Most of the respondents were under the age of 35 (almost half of the respondents). If we compare respondents under and over the age of 35, we notice that, actually, those who were 35 or older had experienced slightly more difficulties in terms of employment (17 per cent) than those under the age of 35 (15 per cent). In other words, there was hardly any difference between the experiences of different sexes and ages.

Performing arts have been at the heart of public discussion as a suffering industry, but this material did not shine a light on this situation. This is because there is a significant difference between the number of alumni per field, which is reflected in the number of respondents. For example, around 1,000 technology and science alumni responded to the survey, whereas only a few dozen arts alumni responded. Therefore, when examining the results by field of education, the restrictive measures seem to have had the greatest impact on theatre and dance alumni (58 per cent). The same phenomenon applies to other arts sectors: 50 per cent of visual arts alumni and 45 per cent of music alumni had experienced difficulties involving employment as a result of the restrictive measures. Dentists are right there with the arts alumni: nearly half of them (47 per cent) had been impacted by the restrictive measures and most of them had been laid off. All the dentists who answered ‘yes’ to this question worked with customers and patients. Thus, the result is logical.

If we examine the results by job, the COVID-19 restrictions had had the greatest impact on those employed by artistic work, 55 per cent of whom answered ‘yes’ to the question. The second largest segment (28 per cent) was comprised of marketing or communications and media experts. The third largest group (17 per cent) was those working with customers or patients. Examining the results by employer highlights self-employed alumni, 40 per cent of whom had been impacted by the restrictive measures. 

I would like to learn more about the situation of technology, science and arts alumni, since they made up the largest segment in this group. So, what could further analysis reveal to us? First of all, 80 per cent of technology alumni and 41 per cent of arts alumni were employed by a company. Nearly half of the technology alumni who had been impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions worked in design, development or administration. 11 per cent of these alumni worked in marketing or sales. This could explain why design, development and other similar fields were prominent in the results. Many of the respondents had these kinds of jobs; however, this group was not the one worst affected by the restrictive measures. Among arts alumni, the measures had had the greatest impact on three fields: media and communications, customer/patient work and education. The educational sector jobs explain why the share of alumni working in the municipal sector was the second largest at 15 per cent.

Next, let us analyse who avoided the impact of restrictive measures according to this survey. In other words, who answered ‘no’ to the question. Most of them (17 per cent) were technology alumni. The second largest segment (14 per cent) consisted of business alumni and the third largest group (13 per cent) was made up of alumni of educational sciences. These results are slightly conflicting (= technology alumni gave the most ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers) but explained by the differences in number of respondents per field. It is therefore more logical to analyse the results within each field of education. Law alumni were the group least impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. 94 per cent of them responded ‘no’ to this question. It is hardly surprising that the majority of medical and health science alumni were also not affected by the restrictions – 91 per cent of both groups answered ‘no.’ If we examine the results by job, respondents working in law (96 per cent), ecclesiastical jobs (93 per cent) or research, management/supervision or finance/financial management (90 per cent) had experienced little impact on their employment. The restrictive measures had the smallest impact on those working for the state or in a university/university of applied sciences (each over 90 per cent).

So, a lot of interesting information is revealed by analysing the answers to a single question. I hope that this blog post inspires others to analyse the results in order to create an even more comprehensive understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the academic labour market. I wonder what the free-form answers to this survey entail – after all, university alumni tend to be good at expressing themselves in writing! Finally, to anyone contemplating their choices of study, I must say that completing a university degree is always (well, 80 per cent of the time) worth it, pandemic time or not!

You can view the results in English on Vipunen.fi: https://vipunen.fi/en-gb/university/Pages/Uraseuranta.aspx

Outi Suorsa
Coordinator/Career Counsellor
University of Eastern Finland

Published:

24.05.2021