College students pivot in job market
Internships, employment opportunities dissolved
For Hannah Arbuckle, a summer internship focused on helping people cultivate wild foods at the Bad River Reservation was an opportunity to help the tribe she belongs to.
It was also the University of Wisconsin-Madison senior’s chance to complete her last requirement for graduation.
But when she called her supervisor at the reservation to ask whether her internship was still happening, Arbuckle learned the program had been canceled.
“They responded that they weren’t going to try and make it work,” said Arbuckle, a community and environmental sociology major.
She is not alone. Many students who secured a job or internship before the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the United States have been dealing with delayed start dates — or have seen their positions rescinded altogether.
“From that March to May period, we saw a pretty significant drop in the number of opportunities for students and for graduating students,” said Rebakah Paré, executive head of career services at UW-Madison’s College of Letters and Science.
Arbuckle, though disappointed, restarted her search.
Opportunities listed on UW-Madison’s online jobs page were scarce. The few jobs that were open were very competitive. She applied to a handful of internships and jobs for the summer and fall, but the process has been slow.
Unsure whether she’d find another internship, she enrolled in an online class to make up for the internship she lost in March — a requirement for her certificate program in food systems.
It took her three months to secure a new internship working for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, located on the Bad River Reservation.
With half of the summer already gone, she got to work collecting information on wild rice production.
“I feel like I got to UW-Madison and I graduated, and felt like I did all the right things, but then it was like nothing I did or was doing once the coronavirus hit was right,” Arbuckle said.
Like Arbuckle, Daniel Ledin, a junior studying political science at UW-Madison, applied for numerous summer internships at governmental offices and nonprofits across the state. He said most delayed their hiring decisions,
only to later cancel all their summer opportunities.
Ledin reached out to his advisers in the political science department. He scoured the internet for postings.
In June, he started working remotely as a part-time, unpaid intern for State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski’s campaign office. He counted himself lucky, since he’d hoped to work on a campaign this summer.
The economic turmoil has hit all sorts of professionals, from those with lengthy careers under their belts to those just trying to get started.
Since March 15, when businesses began shutting down, more than 3.76 million weekly claims have been received by the Department of Workforce Development and nearly 3.2 million of those had been paid out through June 27, state data shows.
At Milwaukee Area Technical College, students are being told to cast a wide net.
Technical colleges prepare students to fill current openings in the local job market. But more students have been forced to find jobs outside of their degree programs with the hope of gaining skills they can use in the future.
“Students across the board were kind of frozen,” said Jenny McGilligan, MATC’s director of student employment, career and transfer.
Still, some are making it work. When Benedicto Azcueta, 37, started his job hunt, he expected he’d work for a technology firm. But after he graduated from the IT networking specialist program last spring, Advocate Aurora Health was the first to put his skills to use.
He acknowledged there are people who can’t be as aggressive in their job search. Many of his peers have struggled, especially those who have children to care for or other circumstances that have kept them from applying in earnest. His choice of degree also helped, he said.
“There’s a lot of jobs for IT in Milwaukee,” he said.
Paré and McGilligan said the job hunt in 2020 will require more flexibility and be more competitive than before the pandemic.
Despite students’ enthusiasm, some of the positions they wanted no longer exist in the coronavirus world.
For Nateya Taylor, a Carthage College graduate who studied criminal justice and Spanish, the job hunt has been difficult. Taylor conducted multiple informational interviews over Zoom but heard at the close of each session that the company didn’t actually have any openings.
Many of her peers are heading to grad school, delaying a job search. But that’s not an option for Taylor.
“I did apply to grad school for this upcoming fall and I was accepted, but because of financial reasons, I wasn’t able to attend this fall,” she said.
Some of her friends have found jobs in high-demand careers like nursing. Meanwhile, career advisers have said students have been finding work in fields such as software development and technology, teaching, health care, manufacturing, research and IT.
For now, Taylor is preparing a new set of grad school applications for next school year, hoping to get a better financial aid package.
“I’m still trying to find something that meets my needs,” she said.
Hannah Arbuckle’s original internship was canceled. She restarted her search and landed a new internship working for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, located on the Bad River Reservation.
Nateya Taylor, a Carthage College graduate who studied criminal justice and Spanish, is preparing grad school applications.