Polish Graduate tracking system - articles

Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way graduates enter the labour market?

The man is wearing a surgical mask

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse impact on the labour market. Low numbers of new hires and the closures of some industries resulting from the restrictions imposed have led to more difficult conditions for graduates entering the workforce. The consequences primarily affected the 2019 first-cycle (undergraduate) graduates, who have subsequently faced a higher risk of unemployment and earned less than graduates of previous years.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an almost immediate lockdown. Accordingly, the Stringency Index peaked between the end of March and the beginning of July, 2020, as illustrated in the chart below. The restrictions were once again tightened in October.

Wykres przedstawiający indeks mierzący rygorystyczność wdrożonych rozwiązań w Polsce

To determine the impact of the pandemic on the entry of graduates to the labour market, we have compared how the Relative Unemployment Rates and Relative Earnings Rates changed in consecutive months of the calendar year following graduation. Relative rates allow us to compare the circumstances of graduates to local averages on the labour market.

The results show that compared to those of previous years, 2019 graduates embarked on different paths to the workforce.

Risk of unemployment among graduates during the pandemic

The chart below presents the Relative Unemployment Rate (RUR) in consecutive months of the calendar year following graduation. The 2019 first (undergraduate) and second-cycle graduates faced a much higher risk of unemployment than those of previous years. The Relative Unemployment Rate for 2019 graduates has risen since May 2020, and remains higher than that observed for previous cohorts in the corresponding months.

Relative Unemployment Rate
Chart - Relative Unemployment Rate first-cycle programmes
Chart - Relative Unemployment Rate second-cycle programmes
Chart - Relative Unemployment Rate long-cycle programmes

The circumstances of long-cycle graduates is different: while the risk of unemployment increased slightly in July and August 2020, it was lower in November and December than in previous years. This is due primarily to the altered circumstances of medical doctors who, after obtaining their diplomas, were recruited to combat the pandemic under decisions issued by regional governors and the Minister of Health. Such tasks have also been assigned to graduates who have not yet passed their professional examinations, and are considered doctors serving postgraduate internships on the basis of temporary medical licenses.

Changes have also occurred in the professional examinations of medical doctors – the most significant of which were implemented in the first half of 2020, when examinations were postponed until September. The format of the autumn examination session was modified: no practical examinations were held, except for those necessary to enter the profession of doctor, and certain specialized oral examinations. Doctors who were unable to sit their oral examinations due to the cancellations obtained diplomas based on the results of test examinations. The changes allowed newly-qualified doctors to be employed faster, as their work was in high demand due to the effects of the pandemic.

Graduates' earnings during the pandemic

The economic circumstances of graduates are also reflected in Relative Earnings Rates. In the first months of 2020, 2019 graduates' earnings were comparable to those of previous years; since the onset of the pandemic, however, their relative earnings have fallen. This decline is most pronounced among graduates of first-cycle (undergraduate) programmes.

The least perceptible changes in the earnings trajectory were observed among long-cycle graduates – primarily medical doctors. Once again, this is due to the special conditions under which this group is currently employed, including their ‘COVID bonuses’.

Relative Earnings Rate
Chart - Relative Earnings Rate first-cycle programmes
Chart - Relative Earnings Rate second-cycle programmes
Chart - Relative Earnings Rate long-cycle programmes

In conclusion, the economic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively affected university graduates – particularly those who completed first-cycle (undergraduate) and second-cycle degree programmes. The effects are noticeable in both the unemployment and earnings rates. In December 2020, the situation stabilised, particularly in the case of second-cycle graduates . Nevertheless, how graduates enter the labour market during the pandemic must continue to be monitored to determine whether there long-term implications exist.