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COVID dashes career hopes for India's graduates

Murali Krishnan New Delhi
July 14, 2021

The financial crisis caused by the pandemic has left young graduates with limited job prospects. Experts say it could take years for the job market to make a full recovery.

Students wearing face masks are checking for their enrollment numbers at an examination center in New Delhi
Almost one in five women with post-graduate education are unemployed in IndiaImage: Naveen Sharma/ZUMAPRESS/picture-alliance

Simran Tandon, a top graduate of a commerce degree program, was preparing to join an investment banking firm before the coronavirus pandemic hit India in March last year.

The firm then revoked the offer, and the economic havoc caused by COVID-19 led to rejections from several other firms.

Tandon is just one of millions of young people who have recently joined the vast pool of freshly minted graduates who are still struggling to find jobs in the pandemic-hit economy.

The Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), an independent think tank, said the pandemic has led to a major impact on the job market, especially for young people. The center conducts one of the world's largest continuous surveys to track household incomes, expenses and assets.

Its latest data reveals that urban 20 to 24-year-olds have one of the highest rates of unemployment in India, with 37.9% currently out of work.

"The pandemic has left me with an uncertain future," Tandon told DW.

Instead of continuing a difficult search for employment, Tandon, who had studied at Delhi's Janki Devi Memorial College, decided to continue her education and enroll in a chartered accounting program.

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'Vastly diminished' opportunities

Swati Luthra, 22, completed her journalism and mass media degree through Pearl Academy, a media institute with campuses across India. But she has been struggling to find a job for over a year now, as news outlets across the country have resorted to downsizing with drastic layoffs and salary cuts.

"Opportunities for me in the media industry are vastly diminished in the current environment. Business and financial stress caused by the pandemic has left me unsure whether a job in media is feasible at all," Luthra told DW.

Almost one in four urban women with bachelor's degrees and one in five women with postgraduate education are unemployed, according to the CMIE.

"The 2020 lockdown robbed youngsters who had just graduated of the opportunity to find a good job. The second wave in 2021 only makes the job market worse," Mahesh Vyas, the managing director of CMIE, told DW.

"As a result, if there is no third wave in 2022, three cohorts of fresh graduates will be jostling for jobs," said Vyas.

More than 85% of India's roughly 20 million university and college students are enrolled in standard degree programs. The remaining 15% are enrolled in engineering, technology and medical schools.

Many students who have graduated from the premier Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIM), who would normally easily find jobs with lucrative salary packages, are still searching for employment or are waiting for the economy to recover before resuming the application process.

An uncertain future ahead

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, Indian youth faced challenges in a stressed labor market with high unemployment rates.

Last year, India's GDP contracted by 23.9% from April to June, as coronavirus lockdowns brought key industries to a halt and rendered millions of people jobless.

The situation has only been made worse by the catastrophic second wave in April and May. Various studies show that job losses and the economic malaise in the country show no sign of slowing, as the impact of the coronavirus continues to batter almost every sector. The path to economic recovery will be long and difficult.

"There is a lack of sufficient jobs for young graduates, and with nearly 10 million youth entering India's job market annually, the downturn does not bode well for their economic future," Vinod Khatri, an entrepreneur, told DW.

According to the India Skills Report, graduating students will have even more troubles finding employment in 2021 than in 2020.

"We are aware that unemployment is a very big issue facing Indian youth," Neharika Vohra, the vice chancellor of the Delhi Skill and Entrepreneurship University, told DW. "Yet if we look at the data on unemployment a little more closely, we find that it is those who do not have a specific skill set that are most likely to be unemployed."

Given the uncertainty, graduates are either focusing on learning new skills or trying to adjust to the new normal, hoping that the situation will become better in the coming months. But many know that it is going to be a long time before the economy fully recovers.

"I am looking at another difficult year ahead, as many firms have deferred graduate recruitment drives," said Priti Kaur, an economics graduate from Mumbai. "I am currently freelancing but it is not what I want to be doing after receiving a good education."

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