If you’re between the ages of 20 and 24 (a segment of the population tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics), or somewhere on the edge of that range, you may not have experienced the best reception in the adult world.
Those who have reached working age during the pandemic have found themselves in a very different employment scenario than their older siblings or parents. Job postings disappeared, internships were canceled and even reliable work options such as food server evaporated when restaurants closed.
Some educational pathways were also affected, particularly if courses could not be easily accessed online. Students who needed access to labs or in-person training processes have had their degrees delayed by months or more, making it even harder to chart a path to employment or graduate school.
If you like numbers, this trend can be seen in the BLS data. For example, in October 2019, 72.8% of young adults aged 20-24 who were not on active duty or incarcerated were working. Two years later, that number had fallen to 71.3%. This decline may seem small until you realize it amounts to hundreds of thousands of people – and that’s more than double the loss of labor experienced by seniors.
It’s not as if all these young adults have extended their studies. Enrollment in two- and four-year colleges has fallen across the board, and in some cases precipitously. Military enlistments also did not increase, but rather fell across all branches compared to pre-pandemic years.
So where have all the young adults gone? More importantly, when are they coming back – and are you one of them?
If so, it’s time to start over. Whatever detours your life has taken so far, it’s not going to pick itself up again. Which means that even if you don’t have clarity on the direction, you’re going to have to step in anyway and get things moving.
These tips have worked for others in the same situation; maybe some or all of them will be useful to you.
Take a part-time job. If you are not currently working, start now. The value of a part-time job is that it allows for other activities (see next steps). It also adds structure, cash flow, and accountability, which helps you get back in the game. Not to mention, future employers will appreciate seeing work experiences for this time.
Finish your studies. Any classes or programs that have been paused during COVID should be completed as soon as possible. Now is when instructors and administrators will be receptive to making accommodations and student loan requirements are still somewhat relaxed. If you doubt the value of finishing at this point, remember that it will be much more difficult to start again later. Even if it’s the “wrong” topic, the finish will provide more traction in the working world than not.
Find an internship or volunteer role. If your part-time job isn’t in your field (it often isn’t), you can still gain relevant knowledge and contacts. Do you plan to be a journalist? Write free articles for a community newspaper. Is your career path in food preparation? Sign up to help cook at a shelter.
Write an adult CV. Ouch – that sounds harsh, but it’s not meant to be. The resumes that most people make to fulfill a class requirement aren’t very appealing to employers. They also don’t tell the story of the person as a worker, since they usually highlight school activities and classroom work. Now is the time to create a resume that starts with a brief summary, then a list of your best professional skills (blogging? Organizing? Being reliable?), followed by your relevant experience, and ending with your education and any additional information. .
Ask for help. Parents, neighbors, school administrators, worship leaders…start somewhere and let it take you somewhere. Questions to ask: Can you help me find a part-time job? Can you introduce me to someone who works in healthcare so I can find a way to volunteer? Can you help me make my CV more suitable for employers? By being specific, you are more likely to get what you need.
Don’t worry about errors. Have you ever heard “a moving bike is easier to steer”? This is also true for careers. Even if you choose a path you don’t like, stick around for a bit and it will be easier to move on than if you had spent the same amount of time trying to decide what to do.
Ready, ready, go. Or maybe: Ready or not, go!
Wherever you go, we miss you and want you to come back.
Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at [email protected]