STATE — College students graduating this May will enter a job market that has already seen 20.5 million people out of work primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To better assist students with securing employment, career centers at colleges and universities throughout Maine are offering their services virtually.

More than 1,000 students will graduate from the University of Southern Maine (USM) this spring, and to assist these new alumni with the unique employment challenges posed by the pandemic, the school’s career and employment hub is now offering virtual appointments, workshops and mock interviews. 

“We have shifted our services to be able to address these challenges by providing resources in order to help students be creative about how they are networking, practicing virtual interviews and validating that we have up to date information about our employer partners. Finally, making sure our student applications are exemplary so they put their best foot forward when applying to open positions,” USM manager of operations at the Career & Employment Hub Andy Osheroff said in an email.

For USM graduate Casey Ahlemeyer who majored in chemistry, the pandemic completely shifted her plans to take a break from school, work a part-time job and look for openings in her field over the summer. 

“Strangely enough, I felt pressure and anxiety to move fast to secure something quickly. I was scared to face unemployment, and I was pressured to start saving money because I didn’t anticipate how difficult working part-time would be,” Ahlemeyer said in an email. “Especially with businesses closing and laying off employees, there were not many places to choose from, and the job market was starting to get competitive for those positions.”

Osheroff stressed that USM’s mission is to encourage students to pursue work and internship opportunities alongside their studies. 

“This allows our students to leverage past internships and other activities to be more competitive during this uncertain time,” Osheroff said.

Ahlemeyer was able to capitalize on her previous internships at Maine Medical Center’s Research Institute and at IDEXX Laboratories to market herself as an experienced job candidate. Abbott Labs in Scarborough which has recently developed a COVID-19 test, hired Ahlemeyer as a quality technician.  

USM student Casey Ahlemeyer was hired immediately after graduation as a quality technician at Abbott Laboratories in Scarborough. Photo Courtesy of Casey Ahlemeyer

As an elementary education major, Ian Lejonhud also completed a field experience as a student teacher at Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock during his undergraduate program at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF). Lejonhud is confident about securing a job for the upcoming school year and in his teaching abilities even if classes will be in a virtual setting.

“I know I’ll still be able to be a teacher because I’m self-motivated and I’m pretty self-sufficient,” Lejonhud said in a phone interview. “If I have an issue with something, I’ll be able to figure it out. So, I’m really not that worried, it’s just a matter of whether the people that are hiring me think that I am qualified.” 

Lejonhud has applied to 10 job postings in the Gray area, and he may apply to five more postings in the Lewiston-Auburn area. 

“One way or another, they’re going to have to have teachers,” Lejonhud said.

Cyndi McShane, the Assistant Director of Career Services at UMF, has been working virtually with the 2020 graduating class of 374 students to offer networking help, workshops on cover letters and resumes and tips for interviewing. She expressed a similar optimism as Lejonhud towards graduates finding work during this time.

“There are many [success] stories! Our graduating education majors have been successful finding employment throughout the state as teachers,” McShane said in an email. “Personally, I’ve worked with actuarial science majors who have found traction in financial advising, psychology majors who’ve been accepted into doctoral programs, and students who’ve accepted positions in the human service field.”

Other fields may pose employment obstacles unique to the pandemic such as criminal justice. The 43 Central Maine Community College (CMCC) students graduating with an associates in applied science in criminal justice may simply have to wait for restrictions to ease-up before they are fully qualified to pursue positions in their field.

“Because the Maine Criminal Justice Academy has postponed all on-site training and testing, some of our criminal justice grads are unable to complete the written/physical agility tests they need to move forward in the hiring process or in phase II of the law enforcement pre-service course,” CMCC Dean of Planning and Public Affairs Roger Philippon said in an email.

Meanwhile, other fields such as tourism are experiencing a hiring freeze which led to Bates College student Nicholas Eaton losing his post-graduation position at Eleven Experience, an outdoor adventure and travel company in Crested Butte, Colorado. 

The Bates Center for Purposeful Work quickly adjusted its services to assist students such as Eaton with internship and work opportunities during the pandemic. The center reached out to alumni asking them to consider 2020 Bates’ graduates as interns at their companies. The college also redesigned its internship program which offers $4,000 of grant funding for students who pursue a low-paying or unpaid 300 hour-internship.

“So what we did is we called it the pivot – the internship pivot – and we reworked our proposal to employers,” Senior Associate Dean of Bates Center for Purposeful Work Allen Delong said in a phone interview.

The Center for Purposeful Work removed the 300 hour internship requirement and instead proposed to employers virtual internships ranging between 75 and 300 hours over the course of the summer. 

“It seemed really manageable for managers who were also in severe transition, and it provided an opportunity for students to still have a summer opportunity that was meaningful to them in an organization that they were really interested in learning more about,” Delong said. 

Eaton took advantage of this virtual internship opportunity and is now working from his family’s home in Portland, Oregon, conducting market research for a property management firm.

“I think I was motivated to make the best of the situation. And given that there were jobs few and far between for people like me, I didn’t want to just sit around and feel sorry for myself because that wasn’t going to help solve anything,” Eaton said in a phone interview. “The good thing about it being virtual is that if something else does come along, I would be able to do both at the same time and work on my own schedule.”

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