December 11, 2020
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
Grambling State University
College of Charleston
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
The University of Tennessee Knoxville
Florida International University
The University of North Carolina Greensboro
Dr. Cheyrl Ensley: The demand for teachers is still prevalent. Virtual job fairs and interviews are the current trends. Additionally, employees are looking more at the candidate's knowledge and comfort level with online teaching and using technology to impact student learning.
Dr. Cheyrl Ensley: Training to be essential is critical. Increasing skills in using technology are necessary. Keeping students engaged and actively learning through technology is a crucial tool that will be extremely important to a teacher, whether teaching in person or virtually. Additionally, the gap year should be used to identify an area of interest for work. Once the site is specified, the graduate should build professional relationships and learn the site's culture.
Dr. Cheyrl Ensley: Flexibility is important. The graduate must be prepared and flexible! The graduate must be prepared to teach effectively and efficiently, regardless of the delivery method and flexibility regarding reporting to the school or working from home. Be prepared and accepting of the fact that what is required of you may change unexpectedly. In this age of uncertainty, the graduate must be flexible enough to perform as needed and remain focused on student growth.
Department of History
Tillman W. Nechtman Ph.D.: I do think that we'd be mistaken to think that there won't be a lasting impact from this pandemic on those who graduate while it is ongoing. Economically, there will be ripples for some time. That seems obvious. But, there are other issues to consider too-psychology, for instance. Seniors in the graduating class of 2019 did not get a graduation ceremony to mark that pivotal moment in their lives and in their learning. That's a loss. It needs to be recognized as such. And, it's but one example of the kind of losses we're all experiencing and which we all need to recognize. There is grieving that will need to be done once we've passed through the emergency of this pandemic.
For those who can make a comparison, the pandemic is not unlike getting a dramatic and life-altering medical diagnosis. It changes you. You don't just go back to being who you were before. Of course, History teaches us to appreciate that - the way life is an ongoing journey. Each step makes us a different person than we were before. To reflect more on the economics of this and the specifics of the job market, though, I would say that the pandemic has pushed a number of graduates that I know from last year back home to their parents' houses. Even those who have been fortunate enough to secure work have jobs that are remote right now, and rather than settle in near their jobs, and folks have opted to go home, hunker down with the family, and work from their old bedrooms. Those are the fortunate ones. I know many graduates from last year who did not secure work, and, in that way, I compare the class of 2019 to those who graduated during the Great Recession and struggled through that economic turmoil. Within the academy, hiring freezes will certainly hurt those with Ph.D.'s who are on the market. There simply aren't jobs right now. At my institution, we're still not even certain we can hire people on a temporary basis to replace colleagues going on sabbatical next year. Those sorts of decisions would have been made months ago in normal times. It's hard for me to imagine that that sort of dislocation won't cause economic and career ripples across time.
Tillman W. Nechtman Ph.D.: When it comes to skills young graduates need, I will speak specifically to the field of History. It's always been the case that History Majors do well in the job market. Now, to be sure, there is the temptation to limit the scope of what jobs we imagine a historian can do. Career Service Offices sometimes think that History Majors teach, work in libraries, and archives, maybe a museum, and that is about it. The fact is that it's not uncommon to find CEO at Fortune 500 companies who were History Majors as undergraduates.
Presidents. Media personalities. Lawyers. Judges. You name it. History Majors are everywhere, and I think I know the reason. History Majors learn to take lots of data - and we're omnivorous about what we call data - and we synthesize it. We give it two frames. First, we weave it into a narrative form, a story, if you will. Second, we give that narrative analytical meaning. We offer a thesis or an argument about the content we're sharing. Those are vital skills. The ability to walk people through data and to help them understand your analysis of that material. What field wouldn't appreciate that set of capabilities? And, I think that explains why History Majors tend to do so well in a host of fields and professions. I don't foresee that that will change in the future.
Tillman W. Nechtman Ph.D.: In my home department, we've tried to stress that students need to ask themselves how they plan to tell their own story - how they want to present themselves - when they leave the college and head out on the job market. That's a personal question, one only the student can answer, and the answer shapes the things that a particular student will want to put on a resume. For instance, if you wanted to go to graduate school, we'd all suggest that you take the Thesis in History and put in the full-year work on a single research project.
That way, in your cover letter (and never underestimate the value of the cover letter as a tool for guiding potential employers through your CV and your other materials), you can narrate the work you did there. If you think your goal is to work in a museum setting, you should consider taking our class in Public History. That is a course that does a lot of directed research too, and it can span a year as well. But, it's a course that partners students with local public history institutions so that students get first-hand experience mobilizing historical research within a museum or institution of that sort. The key is for students to think about the story; they will tell potential employers. What are the things you did - that unique combination of courses and experiences - that make you stand out against the broader pool of applicants? How will you write that story in a cover letter so strong that nobody reading it will miss that you are the one candidate for the position? Be bold here. Make it clear. You stand out from the pack. Yes, perhaps other have taken a more traditional path to a specific job, but if that employer or graduate program wants somebody who can think outside the box or who brings in a different set of skills that just might shake things up in a positive way, well, make sure they know you're their candidate.
College of Charleston
Department of History
Dr. Phyllis G. Jestice: It's hard to imagine that there WON'T be an enduring impact of the pandemic. For History graduates, the worst of it is likely to be that two graduating classes will essentially be entering the job market at the same time---the 2020 graduates as well as the 2021 graduates---increasing competition. Many graduates, especially people coming out of a strong public history program like CofC's, have had many of their typical entry-level jobs essentially vanish for the better part of a year (coming back soon, I hope!)---museum work, park service work, historical societies, and so on. For non-history-specific jobs, where History majors are at an advantage (jobs that require good critical thinking and people skills), the market seems likely to bounce back more quickly.
Dr. Phyllis G. Jestice: The most important skill a History degree teaches has is critical thinking and writing, and those are skills that remain valuable for most of the white-collar workforce in this country.
Department of Education
TaVshea Smith: As a professor of education, I have noticed that there are a variety of skills that young graduates will need to enter the workforce. Young graduates should collaborate with others by building collaborative relationships that represent diverse cultures, lifestyles, races, genders, religions, and viewpoints. It is essential for young graduates, who enter the teaching profession, to be able to work in a team structure and know-how to manage conflict. The pandemic has shown us that technology is critical in education. As teachers, young graduates should know existing digital technologies and demonstrate significant adaptability to new technologies to integrate into their design of lessons and curriculum content. Young graduates must have a strong work ethic, demonstrate personal accountability, and establish effective work habits.
TaVshea Smith: As an educator, graduates should be able to find many work opportunities to teach. The pandemic has highlighted the need for educators to share their immense talent with students and key stakeholders.
TaVshea Smith: Technology will play a vital role in education in the next five years. The pandemic has changed the way educators think about teaching learners and interacting with families and colleagues. Educators will need to learn various instructional methods of engaging with learners, enhancing instructional practices, and using digital tools ethically and efficiently to create assignments, complete tasks, solve problems, and effectively teach students.
Suzanne Kemp Ph.D.: Any work or volunteer experiences that they have had with students with disabilities. All of the graduates will have the same school experiences, and if they don't have anything else, they don't stand out from their peers. Additionally, they have to know that principals and professional school talk, so they have to do a great job in their in-school experiences, so their names are remembered and shared.
Suzanne Kemp Ph.D.: They need to stay engaged in some level of working with people with disabilities. If they do something that isn't relevant to the field, they won't be as marketable as a new graduate.
Suzanne Kemp Ph.D.: All of the apps that assist with online learning. These change all of the time, and they have to be adapted to finding new apps that engage the student who may be learning at a distance, and hopefully, they can be integrated into in-person learning. Students graduate knowing how to use computers and now Zoom, but learning all of the available apps doesn't occur to the level it is now needed.
Department of English
Robert Anderson: Contrary to what many media reports say, the demand for graduates in English is pretty high. Like most degrees in the liberal arts, a degree in English can take a graduate to almost any field. English is not a professional program designed to prepare students for a specific career. In contrast, English majors learn skills that will transfer to almost every field. English majors learn to write carefully and read critically. Several years ago, we had a student graduate who got a job with a firm that manufactures parts for companies that supply parts to automakers. He got the job because of an internship he had as an undergraduate. His career was to take in reports from their client companies, about the parts they made, read them, and produce digested reports for the company's engineers. It may be surprising to hear that engineering and manufacturing firms would value the skills an English major would have, but most companies need people who can write clearly. He was so effective at his job that the companies he worked with wanted him to come work for them.
I tell my students that studying poetry can help them be critical thinkers in other contexts. Learning to work with metaphors, for example, develops students' abilities to find similarities between things where most people see only differences-and differences, where others find only differences (this is an idea I got from the British Romantic poet William Wordsworth). This kind of critical thinking can be beneficial. What is more, English majors learn how to research. They have to find sources relevant to a particular project, read and digest their findings, and integrate them into their writing.
Robert Anderson: We have had graduates find work in a wide range of places-running social media for radio stations, working with the Detroit Pistons, the FBI, libraries, advertising agencies, large multinational corporations, editing and publishing, teachers, and law firms-indeed, I think it would be hard to come up with an industry where an English degree couldn't take you. Sometimes, the biggest obstacle facing English graduates is that their degree opens so many paths that they don't know which way to go. When students come to me to ask for career advice, I tell them to think about the kind of environment they want to work in-the sort of physical workplace, the environment, the sector-and then, do some research to find what employers in those places look for, and find ways to show that the things they have learned can meet those expectations.
Dr. Misty Anderson Ph.D: When they tell us, we believe businesses are looking for people who can write well, think critically, be creative, and research ideas. That's precisely what English majors do. But they also bring a strong sense of empathy that comes from reading literature and from thinking about point of view when they write. Our ability to understand one another is crucial to democracy and the success of various fields, from medicine to marketing, to entrepreneurship, and honestly, everything.
Dr. Misty Anderson Ph.D: And as long as Tennessee continues to expand broadband access, those jobs can be anywhere. We're incredibly excited when we hear about young people returning home or moving into small towns where they can run businesses and work remotely.
Dr. Misty Anderson Ph.D: No one knows precisely what the future jobs will look like, but every indication is that the best ones will involve writing and communicating at a distance. We talk about how English majors have "robot-proof" futures. That human touch, through sound, honest communication, is irreplaceable.
Florida International University
Department of Art and Art History
David Chang: Young graduates should possess the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to function professionally in today's society. Our students go through rigorous studio training along with cutting-edge theories that inform their practices.
David Chang: Miami is one of the best places to find work opportunities in visual arts and art education. It is an international center for the arts, e.g., Art Basel, Art Miami, Art Context, and many other high-profiled art events throughout the year. For the art education field, Miami-Dade County Public Schools is the fourth largest school district in the nation, and there is a continuous demand for our graduates.
David Chang: There is no doubt technology will impact the field in the next 5-10 years. FIU's Department of Art + Art History is poised to contribute to the area with our new and fast-growing BFA in Digital Arts with tracks in Animation and Graphic Design. As one of the largest art departments (over 650 students) in the state of Florida, all our undergraduate and graduate fine arts degree programs have been designated by the Florida Department of Education as strategic or STEM degree programs.
Department of Social Work
David Hage: I expect the need for social services to become even more prominent, given the COVID-19 pandemic. It is likely, and perhaps even unfortunately probable, that individuals, families, groups, and communities who are most vulnerable to the health-related, social, and economic consequences of the global pandemic will require additional social service supports to navigate increased problems related to several issues, including, but not limited to, poverty, management of disabilities, addictions, mental health-related questions, and many other population-specific challenges (United Nations, 2020).
For example, while children are participating in school remotely, their access to nutritional services and other essential supports will likely be reduced. They may be more likely to be abused and not have a school staff member detect the abuse, and therefore, suffer worse consequences or suffer longer (Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection, 2020). Individuals susceptible to domestic violence will likely be more at-risk (NY Times, 2020).
People in general, and significantly older adults, will face increased social isolation and the challenges of anxiety and depression that accompany isolation, in addition to other material challenges (University of Michigan, 2020). The social work job market was projected to rise well before these problems emerged and will likely continue to reflect a demand for these needs to be met, especially as many social issues are on the rise.
David Hage: I have seen many social service agencies behind technological trends in the past begin to catch up as they figure out how to deliver quality services in a post-COIVD world. Examples of technologies that will likely grow might include telehealth and online meeting platforms, for example.
In-home based services, offered via technology, are not the end-all-be-all solution, but they will be an essential tool to continue to provide services while practicing appropriate social distancing protocols rapidly.The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and the Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA) have wisely developed a set of standards for technology in social work practice which can help when implementing technology in the field.
Online documentation systems and electronic medical (EMR) or health record systems (EHR) will also likely increase in use as agencies need to make employee documentation more accessible from various locations. Mobile app-based supports may increase in use among social workers, and social service web-based resources and social service directories will be likely to increase in use among social service consumers, in addition to new novel technology solutions as well.
David Hage: Even before the global COVID-19 pandemic, there was a 13% expectation for growth within the social work field between 2019 and 2029 (BLS.GOV, 2019). Given the increase in complexity and specific societal problems, the needs of individuals, families, groups, and communities will likely continue to require qualified, competent, and caring social service professionals to meet growing social service demands.
Newer social work and human service graduates will have probably faced many of these COVID-10 specific challenges in their internship work and be uniquely positioned to confidently enter to workforce, amid the global pandemic, to positively impact the wide range of social problems facing society today, and for some time to come.
Russell Olwell Ph.D.: I have found that flexible students can use technology and connect with students who are getting jobs, but it is taking longer and can be frustrating!
Russell Olwell Ph.D.: In the field I work the most in, education, the labor market has been volatile, with positions being held until the last minute due to budget pressures then proceeding quickly. Job seekers who kept their eyes open, had identified places they wanted to work, and had their materials ready to go were rewarded.
Russell Olwell Ph.D.: Technology has changed education quickly. Some of our students got jobs as more experienced teachers quit, as they did not want to be a part of remote instruction. Our students have been quick to pick up educational software and have been able to move into open positions as a result. With more jobs being remote, where you are may make less difference. I have probably seen fewer students looking at long moves for work or graduate school.
April Dawkins Ph.D.: Across the United States, most school librarians are required to have a graduate degree in either education or library and information science with licensure as a school librarian (school library media coordinator). The most likely experience to benefit them in their job search is a previous experience as a classroom teacher. Teaching is one of the significant roles that school librarians play in schools, through direct and indirect instruction with students, and professional development for classroom teachers.
April Dawkins Ph.D.: Our graduates are likely to be already employed, both during their studies and immediately after graduation. Many school librarians transition from the classroom to the library setting, while they are completing their tasks. Suppose a graduate wanted to take an additional year before seeking employment as a school librarian. In that case, they might focus on improving teaching skills, their knowledge about children's and young adult literature, and picking up new technology skills. They could work on these skills by using a bookstore or public library, volunteering with after-school programs or community groups that do outreach with children, and exploring new technology trends.
April Dawkins Ph.D.: Technology in schools is rapidly changing. Many schools have been transitioning to a one-to-one device environment in the last decade (the pandemic has put a rush on this for some districts who have been late to adopt this model). School librarians have played a significant role in the early adoption of technology and providing classroom teachers training in its practical use. In the current pandemic, school librarians have helped parents and students access technology for learning, such as online classrooms, ebooks and audiobooks, and other digital learning tools. School librarians are also powerful advocates for equity of access for all students by ensuring students have access to devices, stable broadband and the internet, and digital resources for learning and reading. While school librarians can advocate for these things, it will require a significant commitment at local, state, and national levels to ensure that ALL students truly have equity of access.
For the future, I see a growing need for school librarians to be knowledgeable about technology tools that have excellent accessibility features and promote individualized learning. We live in a world where students need to create new content and explore new ideas. Therefore, school librarians need to be well-versed in audio and video creation tools, and know the potential for augmented and virtual reality as learning tools.