The Latest Survey on How Student Employers are Responding to Covid-19

The latest report from the ISE today details the findings from their survey of 179 student employers, both large and SME, across a broad range of sectors. Below, we’ve detailed their overall findings, and you can read the report in full here.


Overall, businesses plan to recruit:

12% fewer graduates

32% fewer apprentices and school leavers

40% fewer interns and placement students

The reduction in hiring is higher for SMEs than larger firms and for firms in the Built Environment, Finance & Professional Services, and Energy, Engineering and industry sectors.

So far, a minority of firms have reneged on existing job offers or plan to do so. Only 14% of respondents reported that they had already reneged on a job offer. However, renege rates are particularly high in the Built Environment sector (36%) and the Retail & FMCG sector (38%).

  • Recruitment processes have moved online. Firms have shifted a lot of their recruitment processes online and cancelled most face-to-face activities. There is still uncertainty about what will happen next, but there’s a strong indication that online recruitment may become the new normal.
  • Employers want universities, schools and colleges to continue to engage with them. Most employers are keen to stay in contact with education providers and are particularly keen to keep communications open with universities. They’re also keen to see providers move careers provisions online to align with their online recruitment processes.

Start dates & induction

More than a third of employers intend to start new hires as normal, but 31% now anticipate delaying the start date. This issue is particularly notable in the retail sector where 50% of firms intend to delay their start date.

Furthermore, induction, learning and development, and well-being support are moving online. 73% of firms think they will shift their learning and development provision for new hires online.


Almost all survey participants reported they were providing support to help staff manage their health and well-being during the crisis. This support includes a mix of online social activities, access to counselling and mental health and well-being services, along with advice on working practices.

A catalyst for change

Larger employers are more positive about the future than SMEs. While all employers are currently experiencing challenges and problems, large employers were more likely to highlight the upsides of the crisis by discussing potential changes to business flexibility, the introduction of new technologies and increased homeworking. On the other hand, SMEs are more concerned with financial problems and business survival.

Many large employers reflected that the crisis has provided a catalyst for changes to traditional recruitment practices. There are now flexible working arrangements, less travel, and adoption of more agile, technology-driven approaches.

Post-furlough concerns

The most frequently mentioned concern in the Energy, engineering & industry sector is how to manage the return to normal working. Businesses are concerned about backlogs of work, when they will train new recruits, and the knock-on impact of delayed training.

Future employer expectations

45% of SMEs reported that they were unsure about next year, and 21% anticipated they were less likely to recruit early career hires.

What will both the recession and the bounce-back look like? Certainly, one thing we can be certain of is that students should remain one of the country’s most prized assets. Future talent should prepare to enter a challenging labour market in the process of rapid change.

For young people to have the best opportunity to contribute to the economy, education providers need to continue to provide excellent career support. Secondly, employers must continue to recruit entry-level hires and develop them, whilst the government should support the student labour market to prevent a generation of talent being lost.

Simon Reichwald, MKF’s Strategic Lead for Talent:

“What we crave is data and information to help us make decisions in unprecedented times. We also need to know how others are reacting, what decisions are being made, and what this means for the future.

I suspect companies will make tough decisions now, such as a reduction in hiring in 2021, knowing that they can grow numbers later this year or early next year.”

Maintaining Engagement Levels

The move to digital will lead to some permanent changes. So how do the Early Talent specialists deliver the same levels of engagement in schools, colleges and universities? We must continue driving the quality and diversity of applicants, and differentiating our brand and offer. We must also build a personalised and humanised experience pre, during and post the recruitment process.

Virtual events and work experiences will grow and be part of the new normal, but we must ensure they’re engaging and interactive. Educators will want meaningful digital activities, which support the different Gatsby benchmarks. Work experience should be split into a current mix of digital activity, and when it is safe to do so, face-to-face activity.

It’s important that recruitment processes do not become all automation & chat bots, but do involve human interaction. Certainly, virtual on-boarding is here for a while, as is remote working. Therefore, how we keep our new talent engaged, with strong levels of productivity, will be highly important.