Brain Gain: Coronavirus Takes Toll on Class of 2020

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – As companies across the United States announce layoffs or hiring freezes because of the coronavirus pandemic, many college students looking to graduate this spring are likely to find fewer job opportunities. 

For Maria Vitiello, the pandemic has changed her plans in more ways than one. 

The native of California planned to relocate back home after graduating from Youngstown State University in May with a baccalaureate in human resources management. Initially, Vitiello thought the pandemic might expedite her return home as YSU moved its classes online. 

“I thought, if they need me to relocate next week, I can get up and go because I’m taking school online now,” Vitiello says. “So, in my mind, I thought I could start [a job] sooner if they need me to.” 

As the pandemic got worse, however, more companies put a freeze on hiring, she says. Now, she’s applying anywhere that has job postings, even regionally, and has uploaded her resume to LinkedIn. So far, Vitiello has heard from a few staffing agencies and former YSU classmates who advise her to “keep being diligent, keep applying. Everything will turn back around. You’ll get a job,” she says. And so, she’s keeping her options open. 

“I have considered applying around here just because if this is where I can get a job, this is where I can get a job,” Vitiello says. “If I can definitely get a job here, then I would.” 

Vitiello won’t be alone.  

In a survey of more than 250 companies conducted March 20 to 26 by Challenger, Gray and Christmas, 49% of companies reported they are very or somewhat likely to conduct layoffs in the next three months, and 37% say they have instituted a hiring freeze. 

That’s not to say all hope is lost for 2020 college graduates. Betty Jo Licata, dean of the Williamson College of Business Administration at YSU, says she hasn’t heard of any job offers being rescinded for undergrads, and a few have accepted positions in the manufacturing sector – one at Vallourec Star, Youngstown, and another at Haltec Corp., Salem. 

“We’ve been following some of our students who we knew had jobs already lined up for when they graduate this summer,” Licata says. “And they’re still moving forward with those jobs.” 

Interviews with representatives of campuses in the region found some industries still looking to hire include health care and home care, food services and logistics, and computer science/information technology. 

Still, some undergraduates from the Williamson College have been laid off during their internships, while those still working are doing so remotely and some on-site, Licata says. At least 90% of the college’s MBA students are already working full time, but “what we don’t know yet is if people are being laid off from their jobs,” she adds. 

Vitiello had been working an internship in the HR department at GBS Corp., Youngstown, until the company was forced to close its office under Ohio’s stay-at-home order. While she hasn’t been able to go into the office, GBS still sent her some work to do remotely. 

Those types of opportunities for applied learning projects and student consulting will be valuable for interns during the pandemic, Licata says. The Ohio Small Business Development Center and Export Assistance Network at YSU remain busy. As businesses emerge from the stay-at-home order, “We’ll still want to be able to work with businesses to help get projects completed but also provide students with those experiences,” Licata says. 

And remote work experiences during the pandemic could give those students an extra edge with job hunting when hiring freezes thaw. By demonstrating their ability to use online mediums – including Zoom, Blackboard and WebEx – students will show employers they have a better understanding of the technologies and can still work under changing circumstances, says Justin Edwards, director of the YSU Office of Career and Academic Advising. 

“I’m a real proponent for considering project-based learning and project-based internships, where a student is asked to complete some type of specific media project or something they can be working on in their own environment, and then bring it back to an employer,” Edwards says. “What we’re going to see coming out of this very unique circumstance is students who have a broader set of skills after working in remote environments.” 

This holds true for students in education, with whom Edwards works closely. Since public and private schools in Ohio have been closed until May 1, student teachers have had to rely on virtual teaching platforms in lieu of in-class experiences. Making that transition has given them firsthand experience with the platforms and “continue to hit all the markers they need” to get their teaching licenses, he says. 

“What we know is that students need different kinds of supports,” Edwards says. “And the opportunities to build new content and engage in new ways may create some opportunities to have more work in some of those education fields to be able to respond to this in the future.” 

Kent State University Trumbull is working with students who had internships with companies that have since closed per the state’s stay-at-home order, says Tiffany Tyree, coordinator for career services.  

“We are trying our hardest to work with some of the employers who had internships for the students to see how many hours they had gained prior to the start of this, and what can be done for the remainder of the semester to get those hours,” Tyree says. “We don’t want this to be something that hindered them moving forward.” 

Although schools were forced to cancel career fairs, they are finding ways to remotely connect students with employers. Both YSU and Eastern Gateway Community College are facilitating online career fairs and Zoom interviews so students can connect directly with employers. 

EGCC had as many as 20 employers lined up for its career fair this semester, says Zachary Steiner, director of career development. Employers in the health care industry, Mercy Health-Youngstown, Steward Health Care and area nursing homes, were interested in speaking with graduates from the school’s practical nursing and associate in nursing programs. 

“They’re all people that are passionate about their field. A majority of them currently work in the field,” Steiner says. 

While some health care providers are furloughing nonessential employees, the industry is hiring and working to expedite workers to the front lines, particularly nursing students. When Rebecca Martin graduates in May from EGCC with an associate’s in nursing, she’ll likely start applying for jobs in the region. 

“I definitely don’t think that any of us is going to have a hard time finding a job,” Martin says. 

In fact, the Ohio Board of Nursing recently allowed students in their final semester to receive a temporary license as a registered nurse, allowing for “thousands of graduates to fill these positions that are desperately needed,” Martin says. While she hopes to eventually work as a traveling nurse – which requires experience in an acute care setting – Martin says she wants to start her new career in the Mahoning Valley. 

 “I’d like to help with the pandemic within the Mahoning Valley initially,” she says. “It’s my duty to do that, to help within my local community.” 

Martin is one of 10 in the EGCC program scheduled to graduate from the Youngstown campus in May, Steiner says. The campus graduated 20 in the fall semester. 

Since 88% of the community college’s courses are already taught online, transitioning programs fully to online education wasn’t much of a challenge, Steiner says. Online classes and virtual career fairs have been “very well attended,” he says. 

However, as clinical sites shut down, EGCC is forced to work with each nursing student, case by case, to ensure each meets the minimum clinical hours required for nurse practitioners, he says. Department chairmen and deans are working with the state “to get that done,” Steiner says. 

Other degree programs with a practicum element can still get the necessary work experience, including paralegal, he says. 

“If they’re working with the government or different local governments, they can still be working as an essential person depending on if that city, town, county deems it necessary,” Steiner says. 

For graduates unable to find work, Kent State Trumbull’s Tyree cautions them not to waste time. Career services staff at the Trumbull campus are using virtual programming, resume reviews via email and other remote options to keep up with students’ career development. 

“I still think that this time right now is a great time for you to self explore, get to know yourself better,” she says, and hone in on career development skill sets, such as writing resumes. 

While working from home, Tyree has used Google Drive and Google Docs to connect with students and help them to develop cover letters and resumes, she says. She’s also kept Kent State Trumbull’s career services page updated with databases for internships and jobs, and has kept in touch with employers on who is hiring in the region. 

“Even though some employers are on hiring freezes, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t continue to apply,” she says. 

Vitiello, the YSU graduating senior, agrees, adding that she’s continuing to apply for jobs as if the pandemic weren’t happening. She’s also applied for recruiting positions, even though it’s not her first choice for a job. 

“Some people are still hiring,” she says. “Stay persistent; have your options open. And if there is an area you qualify for but it may not be your first choice, don’t discredit it. Don’t not apply.” 

In March, EGCC launched a virtual seminar program called Getting Gator Ready, which allows students to hear from and speak with professionals. The first two seminars covered job readiness and working from home. 

“We thought it was a very timely topic,” Steiner says. “How do you do it now that you might be forced to work from home? Or, now that I work from home and I really like this, what other jobs are out there for you?” 

While efforts are being made to keep graduates working locally, YSU’s Licata says it’s too early to tell what impact the pandemic will have on keeping them in the five-county region.  

Licata believes the manufacturing base in the Mahoning Valley may drive some forward progress with hiring, provided those jobs are still available, she says.  

But overall, the real effect of the coronavirus pandemic on local hiring depends on how long it lasts and how long it takes for the area to rebound. 

As for the next generation of college students, Licata expects the pandemic to have an impact on high school seniors entering college, because the pandemic “is making everybody feel more of a need to stay close to home,” she says. 

“So it may be where people were going far and wide, either for college or for jobs, there may be a tendency to stay a little closer,” she says. “On the other hand, depending on how this plays out with the economy and how quickly things pick up again with the hiring, people may find that to get the jobs they want, they are going to have to relocate.” 

The Williamson College is moving ahead with its first scheduled orientation May 27, and its faculty is encouraging students to sign up and get registered for fall as early as possible, she says. Licata hopes the orientation will be in-person, but YSU is working on an alternative delivery if necessary. 

“We have to be careful we don’t put things on hold,” she says. “You need to be cautious and sometimes pause; but at the same time we can’t just not do things. We need to move forward.” 

Pictured: Maria Vitiello will graduate from YSU in May, but the COVID-19 pandemic is making her job search difficult.