Anxious college students enter uncertain post-pandemic workforce asking more from employers after two-year isolation

May 16-22, 2022

By Wesley Brown


As pandemic-stricken college students from the Class of 2022 enter a reconfigured Arkansas and U.S. workforce, graduates anxiously say they are hopeful about the future but are asking more from future employers after two years of remote learning and isolation.


In a new survey by TimelyMD, a Fort Worth, Texas-based virtual health and well-being platform for higher education, nine out of 10 soon-to-be college graduates said they feel prepared to enter the workforce and hopeful about their futures. The nationwide survey of more than 1,000 college seniors who plan to begin their careers as soon as they graduate also found they are benefitting from a booming labor market but still wrestling with the effects of the pandemic.


Most students in the Class of 2022 want employee perks that became pandemic-era norms, including flexible hours, hybrid work options and mental health support. Despite a strong labor market for jobseekers, two-thirds of students reported feeling stressed or anxious about starting their careers.


“These insights should be a wake-up call for employers,” said Luke Hejl, TimelyMD CEO and co-founder. “Despite the excellent care they may receive from virtual, on-campus and community health centers today, college students’ mental health issues won’t vanish when they become college graduates. We must continue to prioritize their overall well-being to help the Class of 2022 make a successful college-to-career transition.”


As a result of this transition, many employers in a wide range of industries are adjusting to the changes in the workforce even with the falling unemployment rate and increased job growth. According to New York City-based Equitable Holdings Inc., a publicly traded financial services firm, Main Street is still experiencing a worker shortage — a burden that can potentially be mitigated through workplace benefits.


Spurred by the pandemic, Equitable human resource officials said the Great Resignation has tightened the labor market — making it difficult for small businesses to hire, retain and reward quality talent. While some increased wages, many simply cannot afford to, especially in an environment with increasing inflation and supply chain disruptions.  These are costs business owners don’t want to pass on to their customers.


“A common perception on Main Street is that benefits are expensive to offer,” said Stephanie Shields, head of employee benefits at Equitable. “The reality is that workers’ mindsets have shifted since the pandemic — many have witnessed firsthand how important it is to protect their paychecks and the financial well-being of their families. As a result, they are willing to fully pay for non-medical benefits or share the cost with their employer.”


Traditional non-medical benefits like group disability income and life insurance are often funded by small businesses. While other non-medical benefits like, critical illness, accident and hospital indemnity are 100% employee paid — making them inexpensive for employers of all sizes to offer. Employees get the benefit of group pricing and the ease of small payroll deductions.


Non-traditional benefits like caregiving and mental health support are also becoming more attractive to employees as the interconnectedness between work and life becomes more apparent, said Shields.


One highlight from the TimelyMD survey was that company mental health benefits are now necessary because so many students have wrestled with depression, isolation and related issues while in college. Nearly all, or 92% of all students said companies should offer mental health or emotional health benefits.


Another one third (34%) of these new jobseekers said a company’s mental or emotional health benefits were just as important a factor for them as the availability of a 401(k) or another retirement plan (34%) and more important than a company’s mission and values (19%). The vast majority (92%) said colleges and universities must also provide students with mental health resources.


“Amidst their struggles, the Class of 2022 has shown resilience, adaptability and persistence in the face of unrelenting uncertainty — qualities that will serve them, and their employers, well in the long run,” said Seli Fakorzi, director of Mental Health at TimelyMD. “Openly talking about mental health and providing resources are easy ways employers can show early-career employees that they care more about people than productivity.”


UAMS goes mobile to find new employees


Closer to home, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is using unconventional means to attract new employees, including college graduates. Recently, UAMS launched the Health Careers Workforce Mobile Unit, a new traveling medical education facility that is hitting the road to educate students across the state on the various career opportunities in health care.


The launch of the unit was announced at a press conference on May 5 at the Burgundy Hotel in Little Rock. The UAMS-led program is managed by the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership (ARHP) with support from the Community Health Centers of Arkansas (CHCA).


The purpose of the mobile training facility is to visit schools in rural communities to increase understanding, awareness, interest and connection to health career opportunities, UAMS officials said. Students learn about available health care careers through simulation experiences and visits with health care professionals, including UAMS medical students.


“We are proud of this program because we recognize that by introducing health care career opportunities to individuals in rural communities, it may also get them excited about the possibilities that lie ahead,” said Dr. Richard Turnage, vice chancellor for UAMS Regional Campuses. “When programs like this invest in the future of students, everyone benefits.”


According to university officials, the interactive experience of the mobile unit provides students with information on the education requirements needed for entry into specific medical fields, how many years of training are required, the average cost of programs and the institutions that offer medical training and then guides them through the admissions process and scholarship opportunities.


“In addressing the health care gap in Arkansas, we need to pursue innovative approaches like the Health Careers Workforce Mobile Unit,” said Mellie Bridewell, president of ARHP. “Through the variety of resources that this facility offers, we have a proactive strategy in directing students toward careers in health care, helping to alleviate the growing demand for quality treatment.”


“What we are excited about is that this project is the culmination of focused collaboration between several organizations, and we understand that is crucial in providing excellent localized health care,” added Rex Jones, MBA, chief executive officer of ARHP. “Through these partnerships, we believe we have established the groundwork for future programs that will further help underserved communities in Arkansas.”


When the mobile unit hits the road, it has an exam room, two blood draw rooms and state-of-the-art equipment such as smartboards. Career counselors are available both on-site and virtually to connect interested students to customized college and career path preparation.


Through the partnership, multiple possibilities are being explored to utilize the mobile unit for junior and senior medical students to participate in providing care, or additional training, to rural and underserved communities, or to assist in promoting health professions to junior and high school students, officials said. There will also be an option through the AHEC Scholars program at UAMS for a senior elective that will allow students to accompany the unit’s staff at visits.


“What we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that we need creative solutions to accommodate the demand for personalized care throughout the state,” said Lanita White, Pharm.D., chief executive officer of CHCA. “This is especially so for vulnerable, minority and rural populations.”


Meanwhile, a study by Fidelity Investment warns that the last two years of the pandemic have caused many Americans to reassess their lives — everything from health, family, financial situation and careers. In its 2022 Career Assessment Study, the Boston-based investment advisor examines how working professionals are evaluating their next career move, the employer benefits that are most meaningful, and how they balance monetary benefits versus quality of work life. 


The study reveals that six-in-ten (61%) young professionals just out of college — those 25-35 years old — have undergone a job change in the last two years, or they plan to make a move in the next two years. That breaks down to roughly one-third (37%) who have been in their current position for two years or less and almost half (44%) who expect to be at a different company within the next two years.


“Young professionals are more diverse than previous generations and their approach to life, work and money is unique, especially as they face external events from market volatility to inflation — many for the first time in their adult lives,” said Kelly Lannan, Fidelity’s senior vice president for emerging customers. “It’s therefore no surprise this group looks at the workplace in a new light. Of course, financial benefits will always be important, but there’s also a heightened expectation from younger professionals to have more paid time off, schedule flexibility and meaningful work — and they’re not afraid to make a change to attain that expectation.”


As the TimelyMD and Equitable surveys noted, the Fidelity study also emphasized that while salary is typically the most key factor when a person is assessing a job offer — the other top three financial considerations reported by young professionals include medical benefits (54%); retirement savings (49%) and bonus (34%). When it comes to non-financial benefits that young professionals would prioritize in a job offer, they include paid time off (59%); schedule flexibility and remote work (65%); and professional development (28%).


For upcoming college graduates, those in the class of 2022 or 2023, nearly half (45%) are feeling excited about their approaching graduation. In fact, 44% expect to land a job that meets most of their requirements and another 22% expect to land their dream job. Ultimately a much greater percentage of college students (61%) than working professionals (48%) report they value factors improving their overall quality of work life versus financial benefits when evaluating a job offer.


“The last two years have been a pivotal time for many life decisions, and many young working professionals are still assessing their current job – they are prioritizing increased salary, flexibility at work and financial benefits like retirement savings,” said Lannan. “However, current college students are putting a greater emphasis on their quality of work life when they are thinking about their career moves after graduation.”  


Photo Captions;


1. According to nationwide survey by Fort Worth, Texas-based TimelyMD, a higher education virtual health and well-being platform, more than 1,000 college seniors who plan to begin their careers as soon as they graduate found they are benefitting from a booming labor market but still wrestling with the effects of the pandemic.


2. Despite a falling unemployment rate and increased job growth, Main Street is still experiencing a worker shortage – a burden that can potentially be mitigated through workplace benefits, according to Equitable. Non-traditional benefits like caregiving and mental health support are also becoming more attractive to employees as the interconnectedness between work and life becomes more apparent, stated a recent report. 

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