Nearly half of students believe the pandemic has diminished their chances of getting a job, a report warns.
Almost two in five (39%) graduate employers expect to hire fewer graduates or none at all over the next year, amid the Covid-19 crisis, a survey suggests.
The Sutton Trust is calling on employers to move internships and work experience placements online, after research found that three in five (61%) employers have cancelled some or all of their placements.
Firms should also take into account that many students have missed a significant amount of time in education due to the pandemic, in future hiring decisions, the social mobility charity has said.
It comes after a survey found employers were divided on whether firms will take missed lessons into account, for example by being more lenient about the grades expected, when hiring young people.
The YouGov poll, of 1,005 HR decision-makers in businesses, suggests 44% thought businesses would consider this as a mitigating factor in the future, compared with 42% who thought it was unlikely.
Schools and colleges closed their doors to the majority of pupils in March, which will mean some pupils in England will have been out of the classroom for nearly six months when they return in September.
The Sutton Trust report says: “Young people who have not been able to access online learning or impacted by missed exams should not be disadvantaged compared to those from other year groups.
“This will be particularly important for young people entering the world of work this year, but will continue to be an issue for years to come.”
A separate YouthSight survey, of 895 undergraduate students, suggests that 46% of young people believe the pandemic has already had a negative impact on their ability to gain graduate employment.
Nearly a fifth (18%) said that they have had work experience placements cancelled or postponed, while 11% said their interviews were cancelled and 4% had job offers withdrawn.
Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) were the most likely to have cancelled internships and work experience placements, with 49% doing so, compared with just 29% of larger employers, the report says.
Taking action to promote social mobility and socioeconomic diversity in the workplace “will be more important than ever” as job opportunities become harder to come by, the Sutton Trust has said.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “It is crystal clear that young people will bear the brunt for years to come of the massive downturn caused by Covid-19 – and young people from poorer backgrounds will be most affected.”
He added: “Employers will need policies in place to allow everyone a fair chance of being recruited to the lower number of graduate jobs available. As internships and work experience placements are declining, employers need to move their programmes online.
“We need to act now to make sure that all young people have opportunities to enter the labour market.”
It comes after Universities UK (UUK) called on the Government to offer support to universities and businesses to help them set up paid internships for graduates affected by the Covid-19 lockdown.
A one-year scheme of “recovery internships” could help up to 100,000 graduates with their employment prospects and they could help businesses get back on their feet after lockdown, university leaders said.
Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), said: “Students leaving university this year are entering a challenging labour market with far fewer opportunities than usual.
“All of these changes threaten to undo much of the work that employers have been doing on social mobility and diversity.”
Mr Isherwood added that the Government has an “important role to play” in supporting young people and increasing employers’ capacity to hire school leavers and graduates.
It comes after Labour accused the Government of failing to offer any support to final-year university students who are entering a “severely depressed” jobs market.
A Government spokesman said: “The Government is now focused on kickstarting our economy and supporting the jobs market.
“We are boosting the National Careers Service with an additional £32m to help people whose employment or learning has been affected by the coronavirus.
“We need universities to help with this effort and it is in their interests to support graduates with the next step in their careers.”
A UUK spokesman said: “Universities have been offering widespread support to help this year’s graduates find jobs and, while some employers are still running recruitment programmes online, the fact remains that, in light of challenges posed by the pandemic, there are thousands fewer jobs this year.
“UUK has called for targeted government support to incentivise and grow paid internships which would benefit both graduates and employers, creating impactful opportunities for these young people and supporting the economic recovery.”