As many publications continue to publish particularly weary headlines, I stumbled across a rather interesting piece in the FT discussing the effect that COVID had on the business skills of Graduates. It discussed how big four firms were offering additional coaching to their youngest UK staff whose educations were disrupted by lockdowns and it made me wonder the true breadth of skills that may have been affected. Additionally, since some praise the rise of work from home and as the best thing since sliced bread, I thought it particularly interesting to understand how graduates of the period, like me, might have been affected.
The article discusses several negative trends including junior employees finding it harder to adapt to the work environment, having less confidence doing tasks such as making presentations and speaking up in meetings and struggles with teamwork. On the flip side, however, employees have become much stronger in other fields, particularly in working independently. So, let’s get into it…
As events and conferences either moved online or were outright cancelled, many missed out on the opportunity to establish those fabled connections with professionals in their field. While many see these connections as unimportant for early graduates, these connections and the networking skills you fine tune in the low-stakes environments of graduate events are crucial in the years that follow.
Remote work has made it more challenging for teams to bond and build relationships without the opportunity to work “shoulder-to-shoulder” with their colleagues or socialise outside of work. Moving forward, it is important to recognise the effect that a balanced hybrid working policy can have on the culture and comradery in a business.
The subtleties of body language and tone of voice are key in effective communication, and they are lost when communicating through messaging platforms and emails. This can, in turn, lead to misunderstandings and conflicts among staff which could easily be avoided.
As discussed above, while many have developed new digital communication skills, they may have missed out on practice of their soft skills in face-to-face settings i.e., public speaking and giving presentations. This was particularly stressed by the FT and both of the big four firms mentioned in the article (Deloitte & PWC). Employers should take a page out of their book and help support graduates with training and pushing them outside of their comfort zones to ensure they develop these key skills once again while the stakes are low and they can brush off mistakes.
Finally, in the modern globalised workplace, culture and traditions from across the world are being blended together and becoming commonplace. This cultural overlap is a great opportunity for young employees to learn and develop their own understanding of the cultural differences and practices in aid of developing a truly global mindset.
In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of remote work have undoubtedly impacted the business skills of junior employees and recent graduates. While there have been some positive aspects, such as increased independence in working, there are notable areas where skills gaps have emerged.
In light of these challenges, it is crucial for businesses and educational institutions to address the skills gaps faced by COVID graduates. Offering additional coaching, training programs, and opportunities to practice these essential business skills can help bridge the gap and ensure that junior employees are equipped to succeed in the evolving work landscape. By acknowledging the impact of the pandemic and taking proactive measures, we can empower graduates to thrive and contribute effectively in the post-COVID business world.