How much has Covid-19 cost? We know the huge personal cost in terms of the number of lives lost. We can even put a figure on the economic cost as governments spend like never before to stave off a prolonged recession. We know the impact on individual companies who can quantify lost revenues. But what is the cost of lost opportunities?
It’s been a year now since Covid-19 upended our lives. There are those of us lucky enough to be able to carry on working at home, waiting for a vaccine to allow life to return to normal. For many of us, the lost opportunities have been about being stuck at home unable to see family or go to the office.
Impact on a generation
However, Covid-19 has potentially impacted a whole generation for whom the pandemic may change their lives. Schools have been closed for extended periods at crucial exam times. Colleges have moved online. Companies have had to make decisions about pausing recruitment and cancelling graduate programmes and internships. How many opportunities have been lost for this generation?
It should make us pause. How many kids who need a bit of extra teaching will do worse in exams, affecting their choice of university course or chance of making the grade to get in at all? Will almost two years of virtual lessons lead to an increase in dropout rates?
It matters more if we are seeking to ensure that colleges and workplaces reflect the diversity of our communities. Increased participation and attainment in third-level education from minority communities has been a hallmark of success in recent years. How easy would it be for the gains of recent years to be lost? How easy would it be for the student to drop out of college because there’s no space in their home to concentrate come exam time?
As companies start to build back from Covid-19, it may be easy to forget some important issues. Will closing the gender pay gap and ensuring equality on boards still be important? How will employers reach out to graduates from diverse backgrounds who may slip through the cracks? How do you mentor a struggling new recruit if we continue to embrace the world of Zoom calls?
I have been encouraged by how some companies are thinking about these issues. One CEO in December told me that he pressed ahead during 2020 with all promised promotions and all graduate hires across a professional services firm that employs 4,000 in Ireland. It was a commitment to ensuring fairness prevailed, particularly for those at junior levels, he said – even if it cost the company money in the short term.
Not all businesses will be in such an enviable position. But it is a sign that some are aware that the pandemic has affected different groups differently.
How we recover from a seismic global event will set the tone for the next decade. The opportunities for millennials were curtailed following the 2008 financial crisis, and again it appears that the economic consequences of the pandemic are being felt chiefly among young people.
Decisions made now may affect the rest of their lives. It would be a shame if we were to let the progress made in recent years recede so quickly.