Your 20’s is meant to be your defining decade when you get the opportunity to establish your own life and find your way. Yet for many young people, the pandemic has put a large metaphorical spanner in the works, disrupting education, career prospects, and life plans.

The enormity of the situation that many young people find themselves in is understandably overwhelming. Last week a report found that young people under 25 are less likely to fulfil their potential because of the impact of the coronavirus, regardless of background.

Even with the furlough scheme, estimates suggest that the unemployment rate could more than double to 9% by the end of spring. The Office for National Statistics estimates that there are just over 771k young people aged 16-24 who are not in education, employment or training. With the International Labour Organsiation reporting that one in six young people in work have lost their job since the pandemic began, this situation looks likely to get worse.

Generation Z is known for being the purpose-driven generation that prioritises ‘purpose over paychecks,’ which makes them perfectly suited to a career within the charity sector. I wanted to share my own story and that of my friends who all graduated during the last recession to find out what advice they’d give to the ‘Coronaclass.’ Despite a rocky start, they’ve all built successful careers within the charity sector and help to tackle some of the most significant issues that we face today.

Kimberley Ferguson, Brand Manager, The British Heart Foundation

I was optimistic and naive when I graduated in 2009. With a degree in Media Arts, I was ready to embark on an exciting career in marketing. Sadly, marketing jobs were few and far between. It took me three years to finally get my first ‘proper’ job.

During 2009-2012 I relocated from the South West to North Wales. The only job I could get was at a local supermarket. Having worked in retail since I was 16, I didn’t mind, but I didn’t feel like I was progressing, so I decided to try my hand at teaching. Sadly, when I finished my PGCE, I also struggled to get a teaching job as my Welsh wasn’t good enough. At the time, I worried that I had wasted three years of my life and simply increased my student debt. In hindsight, however, I learnt so much from my time teaching.

When you’ve been a supply teacher and had to take control of an unruly class of 6 year olds, presenting to an Executive Group is a breeze!

Just as I was losing hope again, I saw a job advert for a small charity called CAIS for a marketing and event coordinator. I applied and was overjoyed when I got the job. Almost 10 years later, I’m still working in the charity sector, and I love my job. While I wish I had managed to get on the career ladder earlier, my experience made me more resilient and determined to succeed when I finally got the opportunity.

I’m genuinely sorry that another generation is faced with such worry and uncertainty. I believe that if you’re open to volunteering, networking, and learning along the way, someday your determination will pay off in the future. When applying for jobs, take care of each job application. Don’t send the same generic cover letter to multiple organsiations. These types of applications are quickly discarded. One vacancy at the BHF attracted over 70 applications, and I was amazed that most didn’t reference why they wanted to work for the BHF or explained what they’d bring to the role. I’d also encourage job seekers to be creative. In August last year, David Tyoember stood outside Canary Wharf station from 9am-10pm with a sign advertising that he was seeking employment. He had a stack of CVs at the ready for anyone interested. His endeavours quickly went viral, and he was offered several job interviews. He is now the President of the Imperial College Investment Society.

Shalini Rawlley, Digital Content Producer, WaterAid

I graduated in 2008, during the heart of the financial crisis.

It was all doom and gloom, all I kept hearing was that employment rates were at an all-time high, and it’s harder than ever to get a good job. “Great, fine time to start my career then!” I thought!

I studied politics and philosophy at the University of Manchester, with an exchange year at the National University of Singapore in my second year. I was thirsty for life. My exchange in South East Asia had opened my eyes to the rest of the world, and I wanted to keep exploring it.

I had my heart set on doing a Masters in Human Rights, and I wanted a career in International Development. When I found out I got a place to do my MA at UCL I was ecstatic but also fatigued by my studies having found out about my place the day after an all-nighter, handing in my undergraduate dissertation. I looked up what other experience I needed for my career aspirations. Learning languages came up again and again. A wonderful excuse for someone with the travel bug! I decided to defer my MA for a year. I spent a year working, volunteering, and learning in Central America and Spain. The breathtaking nature in Costa Rica was a wonderful distraction from the global crisis. When I moved to Spain, a country that was hit hard by the global crisis, a phrase I heard over and over was “estamos en crisis financial!”

I managed to get a job with Spain’s most prestigious English teaching company. It had won a government contract to get Spain speaking better English – something that was holding Spainards back from taking part in global markets. Teaching was one of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had and helps me with my public speaking and confidence today.

After my masters, and over 100 applications later, I managed to get a couple of internships, including one at UNICEF UK, and I then got a job at Raleigh International, which was expanding at the time. After a few years of building up my skills there, I moved on to the British Heart Foundation and now WaterAid.

It was a bumpy ride, but I’m now doing a job I love. Exercising years of skills and experience and learning new things every day in a dynamic and innovative environment.

My advice to new graduates is to lean into the situation. Ride the wave of whatever is trending now. Find new consumer needs and places to work which are looking for solutions to problems we know we’re about to encounter. I know global travel isn’t an option right now, and learning languages isn’t for everyone. But now is a great time to learn new skills, the more you have under your belt, the more of an advantage you have. Make sure it’s a skill you love, which may be valuable to your career, be it coding or blogging.

Volunteer if you can and take on as many experiences as possible – every single type of work experience is transferable in some way. Demonstrate that you’re dynamic, flexible, and adaptable. Don’t be intimidated by anyone, they’re not actually smarter than you. Almost any task can be learned on the job. Ask questions, be available, there’s no such thing as “I don’t know how” – only “I just don’t know how yet.”

The hardest bit is getting that first foot in the door, but this challenge we’ll overcome, this too shall pass.

Becca Thomas, Digital Communications Specialist at Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis

I graduated from the University of Sussex in media studies. I loved my course, and interestingly in the long term, it put me in a good position for jobs. When applying at 18, ‘media’ studies was seen as an ‘easy’ or ‘micky mouse’ degree. I’m happy we proved the naysayers wrong. All my friends from my course have gone on to find satisfying creative careers – and media skills are certainly sought after.

I knew at the time I wanted to work in a charity, having got involved and loved being in the university RAG society. I also knew it was an incredibly difficult sector to get into, the pay low and the competition very high, and the whole infuriatingly repetitive issue of “you need experience to get experience.” Fortunately, the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton, where I was living, both ran an internship scheme for graduates, working with local organisations. It was ideal; one month-long placements, the employer got a free graduate volunteer, and the University paid the intern a minimum wage salary from a specific graduate grant. I did two of these internships, and one, fortunately, turned into a job at an environmental start-up.

Once I had that job, it was much easier to move forwards, and I turned my sights to London and bigger organisations. I have now worked for big and small charities for 12 years.

My practical advice would be to find job adverts you are interested in, collect those you aspire to and visually highlight the required skills which you have and those you are currently missing. Then, try and find ways of finding or improving on those skills that you lack. I have found that job adverts that I like have a similar pattern of skills they are looking for, so you can quickly get a sense of what skills you are missing. Collecting job adverts like this also gives a good indication of the kind of jobs in high demand, which can also help shape your skill development. From these job adverts, you can set tangible goals you can work to, and you can be creative about the experience you need to get you there. Keep trying and be patient. There will be jobs which are not directly relevant and that you like, as well as the ones that you do. I found it helpful to do the jobs I didn’t like just as much as the ones I did.

Be open-minded to what opportunities to take up at the beginning. It gives you clarity about what you want/don’t want, and you never know what other opportunities might come out of it. Talk to as many people as possible; network, network. My family is a big believer in the ‘weak links’, i.e. it’s not your colleague, but your colleague’s sister’s neighbour, the person you know least, who inspires you to try something new.

Christopher Allen, Head of Healthcare at HEART UK

I graduated from the University of Manchester in 2009 after studying adult nursing. I was lucky enough to be one of the last intakes of student nurses at the time who had no course fees and a small bursary. I wasn’t ever really sure what I wanted to do as a career, but I knew that whatever it was had to really stimulate me because I get restless incredibly easily.

I decided to take a job I was offered in the NHS in cardiology, and I haven’t looked back since. By chance, I’d actually found something that absolutely fascinated me, and I’ve spent the last 10 years still eager to learn more. Transitioning from being a student to being suddenly responsible for people’s lives was terrifying, and I was certainly very immature and naive. Looking back, I wish I’d asked for more help and guidance. Annoyingly, writing this, I’m realising this is the feedback I had in my last appraisal! I’ve always wanted to stand independently on my own two feet, and sometimes I probably take this too far and isolate myself from other people’s guidance.

It’s only as I’ve progressed in my career – from the NHS to private care to the charity sector – that I’ve realised that asking for help is the best way to succeed.

You can learn so much from people with different brains and completely different approaches to yours. Sometimes this starts with conflict because we all feel the need to be appreciated for exactly how we are, but being the first to compromise can actually feel very empowering.

I’ve had some amazing managers, some terrible ones, some that started off well enough and over time became overbearing. Everyone goes through this, but it can sometimes feel as though you’re on your own. My advice is always to seek out people who will be honest with you, but who actually care for you as well. It’s often easier for us to hear things from those we care about because we know it’s coming from a good place. That being said, you should absolutely always stand up for yourself if you’re being treated unfairly. Never stay somewhere you’re unhappy or where someone is actively seeking to hold you back. There are amazing opportunities out there in the world, but don’t sit back and assume they’ll find you.

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