Unemployment rate falls to 13 percent, 2020 grads should prepare for market turnaround, industry experts say

Alexa Cucchiara, an author who battled Hodgkin's lymphoma in college, graduated from Fordham University in May.

The 22-year-old’s first book, Power to Persevere, published during her senior year and set her up for post graduation employment. The agenda was set. A speaking tour was planned. Her goal? Use her experience battling Hodgkin's lymphoma to educate other young adults on ways they might overcome their own challenges.

“When COVID-19 happened, I had to reevaluate how to share my message so I started my own YouTube channel and have been collaborating with other young adults on Instagram live,” she said. “Because of all this I’ve learned how to pivot once again. I’m using this time to network and hone in on my skills and interests for when I start working.”

Alexa Cucchiara hopes to be an influential role model for young adults and start her own jewelry line.

Alexa Cucchiara hopes to be an influential role model for young adults and start her own jewelry line. (Alexa Cucchiara)

The coronavirus pandemic cut a swath through American business, leaving over 40 million people unemployed. At the same time, colleges and universities are expected to award 3,968,000 degrees during the 2019-20 academic year, according to National Center for Education Statistics.

Job offers were rescinded, the first days of work pushed back and summer internships cancelled. Businesses entered hiring freezes, downsized, or closed altogether due to the health crisis. It came at an inopportune time for many of these graduates turned new workers.

But there could be a glimmer of hope as industry trackers say there is an increase in job postings.

“This is certainly an uncertain time, but we’re seeing right now a number of opportunities in fields like retail, health care and higher education,” Blake Barnes, head of careers products at LinkedIn, told Fox News. “There are more than 1.5 million entry-level jobs and 65,000 internships in the U.S. alone posted on LinkedIn right now.”

“We're seeing a really large spike, over 90 percent in remote jobs across all industries. People looking for entry-level work right now have this opportunity to think creatively and look at a career a little differently to figure out what opportunities are available in a remote capacity that they maybe didn't even consider before,” he added.

The U.S. unemployment rate reached 14.7 percent in April, an all-time high since data began being recorded in 1948. At the same time last year, it was as low as 3.6 percent. But as the economy moves towards a slow recovery with 2.5 million jobs added to the market, the unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to a recent LinkedIn report, the industries currently in the lead with the most open entry level-job positions, both remote and on site, are health care with 185,000, retail with 170,000, and transportation and logistics with 135,000 – travel, manufacturing, software and IT services follow.

Some of the handful of companies that are hiring: The Home Depot, Five Star Senior Living, U.S Express, J.P. Morgan, Domino’s Pizza, Sherwin Williams, Amazon and General Dynamics.

“People are home and they need a range of services and products to be delivered to their doorstep. To accommodate that, a lot of these companies with an online presence that are experiencing more customer traffic, have a corresponding need for more customer service specialists. These jobs were in demand even prior to COVID so there is still a large section of them that need to get filled,” Barnes told Fox News.

Retail, manufacturing and health care also take the lead for the most internships offerings. While the opportunity to obtain a job or internship does exists, some people were left in a lurch when the offer on the table was no longer there due to the coronavirus.

Charlotte Sika, an international graduate student at Oral Roberts University, was one of them. She was midway through finalizing a summer internship in Tulsa when all communication stopped after the company, which she declines to name, went into quarantine.

“I tried to reach out, call, email. I even tried to call customer service. Everything is just up in the air,” said Sika, who came to the U.S. from Nigeria this year in pursuit of an MBA. “The internship was going to be a stretch to begin with because it was unpaid. I was going to use up all of my savings once I took it."

She said, "It was an investment into my future and sacrifice I was willing to take but I still haven’t heard from them. The bills don't pay themselves.”

There’s a chance that working from home could really turn into the “new normal” post COVID-19, said Paul McDonald, senior executive director at global HR consulting firm Robert Half.

“Last fall, there was this war on talent at 3.6 unemployment and a lot of companies were offering more remote work opportunities. If you wanted to get the best talent to fill the job, you had to allow employees to work remotely,” said McDonald.

McDonald believed companies will continue to endorse remote working post COVID-19.

“Before the pandemic working from home was more of a perk or benefit. Now we’ve been forced into it," he said. "People have quickly picked this up and proved to companies that they can be productive wherever they are.”

Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, greeting a student at an Enactus event. He's been speaking with college grads throughout this time about the current environment and providing tips and tactics for what they should be considering as they enter the job market.

Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, greeting a student at an Enactus event. He's been speaking with college grads throughout this time about the current environment and providing tips and tactics for what they should be considering as they enter the job market. (East Market Studios)

McDonald said that, as digital natives, Generation Z is “very tech savvy” and well equipped to find job opportunities online, but highlighted they need coaching on things like how “to dress for success or minimize distractions around them for a video interview,” as well as other tips and tactics for what emerging professionals should be considering as they enter the job market.

A common question graduate ask themselves after graduation is 'where to next?' Major cities like San Francisco and New York were once the place to be. Given the current economic situation, Burnes found that cities across the Midwest is a suitable option for beginners.

“If you are flexible, which I think many graduates are, places like St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Cincinnati or Indianapolis has affordable housing and good starting pay,” he said. “The well-paying jobs available in these cities range from software engineers to registered nurses.”

It's believed that the country's economic health can be directly correlated with how the U.S. will recover from the pandemic.

“A public health response will determine tomorrow's economic recovery,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed Hiring lab. “Until COVID is solved and the public health crisis is taken care of only then can we move forward with a fuller economic recovery.”

She recommends graduating seniors revise their resume, strike up a conversation within their professional network and take on development courses on foundational skills like teamwork and communication, in preparation to be ready when the labor market turns around.

While Cucchiara agrees -- Hodgkin's lymphoma delayed her from interning and finishing her junior year on time -- she understands it's no easy task to accept the many challenges 2020 grads face this year.

“It's been very challenging for me and a lot of recent graduates," she said. "But at the end of the day, life is too short. Now is the time to take a risk or pursue a project you wanted to embark in college but couldn’t. Instead of being fearful and believing that there is nothing out there for you, focus on personal achievements.”