Despite the abundance of news and information on COVID-19, there has been little media and political attention given to the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on young people and their futures. We spoke to some young people directly to get their views on how the pandemic has affected their future career choices. This is what they told us…

For many young people in the UK with no underlying health conditions, the COVID-19 pandemic may seem to impact them less than their elder counterparts.

However, with what initially started as a health pandemic, the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak are likely to be felt for a long time, with long-lasting changes to the ways we work and live. The likelihood of a deep economic recession that is to follow COVID-19, will have repercussions of its own.

A recent poll conducted by the British Science Association (BSA) found that 59% of young people (14-to-18-year-olds) are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their future career. These concerns are warranted when looking back to the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, where unemployment among students with GCSE-level qualifications, in particular, peaked at 32% according to the Office for National Statistics.

It's hard to imagine young people's futures in detail beyond the fact their lives will be, in at least some ways, profoundly different from what they might have been.

One of the young people concerned by the future uncertainties is 17-year-old, Chelmsford based- A-level student Tanisha Lohia.

"Although I know that lockdown and social distancing can't go on forever, it's hard for me to imagine exactly how life will be like after coronavirus.

"I don't know how universities will resume, and pretty much everything in my future rests in the hands of current scientists."

Despite this, when asked about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted her future career, Tanisha says it has come with some silver linings. She has always had an interest in a scientific career but has never had a clear direction of what she wanted to do within the field. However, she is now certain she wants to study disease and virus prevention in some way.

"I have never wanted to be a doctor, but at the same time, I wasn't sure of which career paths would be available to me. I knew for sure I wanted to use science in my daily life, but I still had no real understanding of what it meant to be a research scientist."

"COVID-19 has made me realise how vital research scientists are to the health of the human race. I now definitely want to research immune responses to different diseases, and maybe pre-empt any future diseases that could mutate the same way as COVID-19 has done and attempt to create and distribute vaccines for these before it turns into another pandemic."

Tanisha's response to the COVID-19 outbreak is not a unique example. Findings from the BSA's recent survey revealed a marked uplift in young people (14-to-18-year-olds) who would now consider working in a scientific field as a result of COVID-19 – with 37% of young people now more likely to consider a scientific career.

Tabitha Salisbury, a year ten student at Mary Webb School and Science College in Shrewsbury is another example.

"Hearing about all the NHS staff working to help with COVID-19 especially has affected my thoughts," Tabitha says.

 "I hadn't really considered studying science further at college or university, but during this time, I've been intrigued by how vaccines are developed as well as the trial process."

Young people may also consider a scientific career due to the increased notion of having greater job security than other sectors. Chelmsford-based A-level student Ridha Naushad (17 years old) previously aspired to follow a career in Economics. She is now leaning towards the sciences due to reports about the economy and job market facing a sharp contraction this year.

Data from the Office for Budget Responsibility suggested the UK economy could shrink by as much as 35% in the second quarter of 2020 – the largest drop in more than 100 years.

"Before I was indecisive between choosing a career in economics or science, but now I would like to pursue science as it has proven to be one of the most stable fields during such times."

Despite the BSA's findings on the lack of suitable messaging around COVID-19 for young people, with figures revealing nine in ten young people (14-to-18-year-olds) do not think scientists (89%) or politicians (92%) are directly talking to them, Ridha says information on COVID-19 has enabled her to engage more with science.

"Information is now being presented through various platforms and means that are targeted at a very wide demographic enabling people to be genuinely keen to learn more. There is also a need to stay updated." 

"I am less afraid to engage with scientific content because not being able to understand it at first glance made me shy away from it but now since facts are being presented in such diverse forms, I have become eager to learn more."

This increased interest in science provides opportunities for two-way conversations with scientists and scope for a more diverse pool of role models – helping to build a sustainable and diverse science workforce in the future.

As the world confronts this new challenge, the Government, industry and academia must find ways to nurture the increased interest in science shown by young people, placing value on more tailored discussions on how to sustain and cement engagement in the coming months and longer-term.