After almost five years fighting her way through an arduous mechanical engineering degree at one of Indonesia's top schools, 24-year-old Tantya “Tya” Ani thought she could breathe a sigh of relief upon graduating in September last year.
She started seriously looking for jobs in December, applying for roles that would allow her to work onsite — defying the odds that have for a long timed sided with men in the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
According to UNESCO, only 35 percent of STEM students globally are women, but women’s representation in these fields is increasing, thanks to women like Tya.
However, it is not only sexist comments and harmful stereotypes, both of which she encountered at university, that have kept Tya from landing her dream job. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a public health and economic crisis, forcing businesses to close or halt recruitment and leaving millions out of work.
Tya said she had not heard back from a company in Bandung, West Java, after a job interview in January, with the city soon to impose large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) to curb SARS-CoV-2 transmission. An internship she secured at a Malaysian company, scheduled to begin in March, would likely be canceled as well, she said.
"I was waiting for my visa and work permit when the pandemic hit. I had even found a place to rent there and started working remotely for the company. However, the internship will be canceled, as the company has had to halt its operations because of the lockdown there," Tya said.
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Living with her parents in Surabaya, East Java, Tya said she was still sending out applications amid the pandemic, but with far less hope now. To keep her mind at ease, she has been accepting freelance projects and helping with her friend's new business. She also spends less time on Instagram now, opting instead to explore new interests, such as cooking and making ceramics, while she stays at home in compliance with the government’s calls for physical distancing.
Tya said she could not help but feel morally obligated to find a job, even though her parents had told her to take things easy, expressing hope that life would return to normal soon.
"The government hasn't taken this seriously since the start. As a result, both public health and the economy are at stake now. I hope they'll prioritize public health for now," Tya said.
Online talent recruitment and career discovery platform Glints’ country director for Indonesia, Steve Sutanto, said companies in general had become more prudent in hiring new talents, with retail, travel, aviation and food and beverage industries being among the most affected.
"Our observation shows around 30 to 50 percent of companies in Jakarta have stopped their internal recruitment activities starting three to four weeks ago," Steve said.
Steve said that although there was no definite answer to when recruitment would return to normal, with some experts predicting a second wave of the outbreak, the current situation was bound to change the way companies rolled out recruitment once the pandemic ended.
A recent survey by the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) and SurveySensum revealed that more than half of the 80 businesses surveyed in March had cut their hiring budgets.
Business players expect to resume normal operations around September or October as uncertainty continues to haunt the country's unemployed, including fresh graduates.
Indonesia has seen rising levels of university enrollment, with more people believing a degree will lead to better-paying jobs. University graduates accounted for 9.7 percent of Indonesia's workforce, or 12.27 million of 133 million workers as of August 2019, according to BPS data.
The same data, however, revealed that 5.67 percent, or some 730,000 of the country’s 13 million university graduates, were unemployed. The figure was higher than the country's overall unemployment rate at the time of 5.28 percent, which equates to 7.05 million people.
This figure does not include the roughly 2.8 million people who have lost their jobs as of Monday because of the pandemic, according to data by the Manpower Ministry and the Workers Social Security Agency (BPJS Ketenagakerjaan).
"It was already hard to find a job to begin with, even without a pandemic," said Ghea, 21, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communication science in early March, shortly after Indonesia announced its first confirmed cases.
Reports of layoffs have made her feel uneasy, as it means she will have more competition for positions.
Ghea, who had worked her hardest to finish her studies in less than four years, said she had been on the lookout for job vacancies online every day and had so far applied to around 15 companies, mostly in retail, since March.
Sadly, three retail companies have reached out to her to tell her that they were canceling their recruitment, but she is pinning her hopes on an online interview with a start-up company this week.
"I just don't want to be a burden on my mother anymore," she said.
Ghea said all her friends were sharing the same experience and were now trying to sign up for the government's preemployment card program, a social safety net program that offers aid similar to unemployment benefits.
The program will cover 5.6 million participants aged 18 years and above who are currently not attending university, particularly those who have yet to receive any social assistance, and offer them the opportunity to participate in training courses.
The program was initially intended to reduce youth unemployment, but the aim shifted slightly to accommodate people who have lost their jobs or run struggling small businesses during the pandemic. As many as 1.4 million people had applied for the program a day after it was rolled out on Saturday.
"I tried signing up many times but the website was always down. There must have been many people trying to sign up too," Ghea said.
Uncertainty about the future also worries Athiyya Nabila Ayu, a 22-year-old final year accounting student who expects to graduate in August after finishing her thesis. She said she had tried applying for jobs, but had only heard back from one company.
"Of course, it's not a good time to graduate," she said. "My parents are also worried whether I can get a job in a time like this."
— Editor's note: The article was updated to correct a misspelling of Glints country director Steve Sutanto's name.