April 1, 2021
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.
Loyola University Chicago
University of the Incarnate Word
Kent State University
University of Oregon
East Tennessee State University
Miami Dade College
Department of Behavioral and Social SciencesWebsite
Jonathan Appel Ph.D.: The pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues and needs all across the world. People need social interaction for well-being. The pandemic has contributed to increases in mental health and addictive disorders. Knowledge, training, treatment for psychological well-being has become even more critical as a personal and professional required skill across all fields.
Being able to understand and adapt to the limits of distance work will also be a lasting impact.
Jonathan Appel Ph.D.: Clinical practice license/certifications are often critical for marketability and employment. At Tiffin University we provide a training track for Psychology students to get a Chemical Dependency License to practice with an undergraduate degree. There is a nationwide shortage for licensed addiction specialists. The demand for licensed counselors in this area has increased greater than the supply.
These students are very often among the first of our graduates to get hired. Opportunities are only increasing as the The American Rescue Plan Act will provide $4 billion for substance use disorder and mental health services.
We also provide close advising and assist students to attend graduate school to obtain additional clinical licenses in the fields of psychology, counseling and social work.
Jonathan Appel Ph.D.: Mixing unusual majors and minors-to stand out in the crowd often can help student marketability. For example I recently have been working with a psychology student to establish a business minor. This can prepare the student work in human resource management as well as the human service field.
Obtaining an advanced graduate degree often helps.
Loyola University Chicago
School of Education
Sheryl Covitt: -Diversity in skills: virtual, hybrid, in-person
-Flexibility with assignments: being able to teach multiple groups/topics in a variety of settings
-Use of technology
Sheryl Covitt: I make sure that the resumes candidates share with me are clearly and concisely written and make a positive impression quickly, as this is the first document an interviewer will read. The description of each of their school-based experiences should include action words that describe what they did and with whom. Using key words such as progress monitoring, cultural/racial diversity, differentiation, working with families, relationship building, use of technology (this is a big one!), and collaboration will (hopefully) encourage the interviewer to explore that further with the candidate during the interview. I also let them know that resumes should include skills and accomplishments that are relevant to schools' needs. This requires them to do his/her research about the school district prior to submitting a resume to that school and before going in for the interview.
Sheryl Covitt: I can't speak to locations outside the Chicagoland area but I can surmise that in communities around the country, urban, suburban and rural, there is a huge need for teachers especially as there has been a documented increase in the number of teachers retiring due to the pandemic and/or are of Baby Boomer age. Per the literature, there is an increased need for teachers in special education which includes pre-K, inclusion and lo-incidence, English as a Second Language, and specialty areas in both elementary and high school.
In Chicago, the need for teachers is city-wide-not just in the high-need areas. Chicago Public Schools has The Early Offer Program which provides student teaching candidates a chance to interview with a member of the CPS teacher recruitment staff well in advance of the traditional hiring season. If they think the candidate is a good fit, they will extend a guaranteed offer to teach in CPS, and then work with them throughout the spring and summer to meet principals and find a teaching position that is an ideal fit for you. As I understand the caveat with this program, it's that they seek to place candidates in schools in high need areas of the city and this may dissuade candidates from pursuing this option.
There ARE teaching jobs available and some of variables that candidates need to seriously consider before accepting a position are:
-the financial stability of the district and the past trends when balancing budgets
-viability of the content area in terms of district need.
University of the Incarnate Word
Department of Psychology
Dr. Maria Felix-Ortiz Ph.D.: No one will forget this pandemic because of the major behavioral changes it has required of us (e.g., masking, washing hands thoroughly and frequently, avoiding crowds, keeping 6-8 ft of distance from others), the tragic loss of life, and the negative effect on the economy. Because of the effect on the economy, many graduates may have some more difficulty than usual in finding employment. However, this may be a good time to pursue graduate studies!
Recent graduates might work in volunteer positions with nonprofits until they can land a good entry-level position. Volunteers can make important new connections, develop new skills, and sometimes even be hired into the organization they're assisting or into a partner organization. There are even opportunities to volunteer to assist organizations "online": Most social service organizations are delivering services through online meetings. We were fortunate to have the internet (something that didn't exist when I was looking for my first job), because it will be an important resource for new graduates. The pandemic will produce a generation of graduates that are more comfortable with speaking and interacting through online meetings.
Dr. Maria Felix-Ortiz Ph.D.: My colleagues and I have noticed that students are not able to communicate as well as previous generations. While many are reading a lot on social media, they are not reading the kind of nonfiction and fiction that will develop their writing and speaking skills. Graduates can be competitive if they have strong reading skills, the capacity to innovate as part of problem solving, if they can speak and communicate effectively, work well with others, and take the initiative to improve their workplace, company product or processes. Manager and administrators want individuals who are enthusiastic about being a team player.
Dr. Maria Felix-Ortiz Ph.D.: A good cover letter! Unfortunately, many applicants forget the importance of submitting a cover letter for the resume and HR usually skims a cover letter to see if the applicant's skills match the skills described in the job advertisement. Use the language of the job description to describe skills you may bring to the work! Beyond this, applicants can impress those hiring with an internship or research assistantship where the student has worked for two or more semesters, with skills in a second language and culture OR being very "fluent" in technology, with a substantial study-abroad experience, and/or some sort of research product (e.g., a poster, a paper accepted to a journal).
Kent State University
Special Education DepartmentWebsite
Dr. Andrew Wiley Ph.D.: Before the pandemic, the number of students who needed special education was already on the rise. There is no question that the pandemic will increase that number even further. This pandemic has had a negative impact on the learning and development of millions of kids. Reversing the damage will require an influx of dedicated and skilled specialists on a national scale.
Also, there was an acute shortage of licensed special education teachers before the pandemic. Now, the demand for qualified special educators will be greater than ever before. In addition to offering an incredible range of career opportunities, special education offers a unique opportunity to make a tremendous difference for children and their families. This is true now more than ever before.
Dr. Andrew Wiley Ph.D.: Graduates from the special education program at Kent State demonstrate adaptive expertise. The "expertise" is in specially designed instruction and interventions in academics, life skills, social skills, communication - whatever the special educational needs of students with disabilities may be. The "adaptive" refers to the ability to collaborate with other professionals to solve problems. What stands out on resumes is expert training in both research-based special education practices and the ability to function within a team. Kent State's special education program provides both.
Dr. Andrew Wiley Ph.D.: There is a demand for fully credentialled special educators in every part of the country. The demand is highest in both rural and urban areas, but suburban districts also need special educators. Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan are all good places for a career in special education because of the particularly high salary compared to cost of living. But again, there are many special education careers to choose from anywhere in the United States. The demand continues to grow.
University of Oregon
Educational Methodology, Policy, and LeadershipWebsite
Dr. Julie Alonzo Ph.D.: With so much uncertainty about the future, many school districts and institutes of higher education imposed hiring freezes in the spring of 2020 and started the 2020-2021 academic year without the influx of new hires that we would typically see at the start of a new school year. The approval of vaccines with demonstrated efficacy against COVID-19 should, hopefully, prompt a return to a more normal job market in the coming spring. The job market will likely be quite competitive, with new graduates vying for open positions with those who were not offered positions in education last spring.
Given the challenges that schools have faced during the pandemic, I believe we will see an increasing need for culturally-competent, highly-skilled educators who can think critically and allocate limited resources creatively. Schools across the country are likely to struggle with budget shortfalls, as high unemployment rates reduce states' tax bases and as other high-priority needs compete for the limited money available. Thus, finding jobs might be more challenging than in the past.
In terms of the skills that will be needed to be competitive in the job market, the pandemic and resulting move to remote instruction for many in education will increase the demand for educators with expertise in developing literacy and numeracy, particularly in the early grades (K-5). Those with an understanding of how to use student performance data to screen for students at risk, to identify their areas of need, to provide instructional supports to meet those needs, and to monitor the progress being made so that instruction can be adjusted on a regular basis will be in high demand.
In addition, disparities in access to educational technology and the resulting disproportionality in "learning loss" as a result of the move to remote instruction for students from different demographic backgrounds will increase the demand for educators who have experience working with students from low-income families and those experiencing homelessness, as well as demand for educators who have demonstrated their ability to work effectively with students from different ethnicities.
With the continued focus on increasing the diversity of the educator workforce to better match demographics in the United States, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Southeast Asian educators will continue to be in high demand.
Dr. Julie Alonzo Ph.D.: Cultural competency, knowledge of social emotional learning, and familiarity with the tenets of Response to Intervention (RTI) are all skills that will help enhance educators' competitiveness. If a graduate needs to take a gap year, there are many ways to ensure that they continue to develop these skills. They might serve as a mentor to an at-risk student (many schools have active mentor programs), teach in an after-school tutoring program (these can be set up for remote or in-person instruction), or work on improving their knowledge of the different languages spoken by families in the community where they are hoping to work. Enhancing one's knowledge of anti-racism teaching practices will help make a graduate more effective as an educator as well as more competitive in the job market.
Dr. Julie Alonzo Ph.D.: Most of the students in our Educational Leadership program at the University of Oregon are full-time educators already, and they enter our program to enhance their expertise and earn a doctorate while continuing to teach or work in school administration. For these students, graduation often provides the opportunity to take on new leadership responsibilities in their schools or districts. The advice I give to them is to remain in contact with their colleagues from the program, to remain actively engaged in learning and supporting one another, and to seek ways to support others in their schools and districts who demonstrate an interest in developing their leadership skills.
For people graduating with degrees in Educational Leadership who are just starting their careers in education, I advise taking the time to think critically about new initiatives that come their way and to seek input from experienced educators about the viability of ideas before they rush to adopt or promote them. Sometimes an idea might be appealing on paper yet be fraught with challenges in terms of implementation.
As educational leaders, it is important to be able to understand both the strengths and the limitations of the research based on which "evidence-based practices" are promoted.
East Tennessee State University
Department of Counseling and Human Services
Jamie Brown Ph.D.: We know that many of our graduates are drawn to the field of Human Services due to the issues they have faced in their own lives. We have seen an uptick in students sharing the fact they have struggled with Adverse Childhood Experiences during our remote teaching and advising. We need to be aware of Trauma-Informed teaching and outreach as a program and as a university.
Jamie Brown Ph.D.: Students need training in Adverse Childhood Experiences, Trauma-Informed Care, Active and Compassionate Listening, and the abilities to support and advocate for people that do not share your life experience and perspective.
Jamie Brown Ph.D.: Community involvement and activism can set a potential candidate apart from other applicants.
Miami Dade College
School of Education
Dr. Thomas Uhle: From an educational perspective, many schools are in desperate need of teachers, especially those trained to work with students with exceptionalities and with English-language learners. In Spring 2020, the stress of a seemingly instant system-wide school shutdown was more than many teachers could bear. Some who were on the brink of retirement decided to end their careers earlier than planned rather than to endure the new, somewhat chaotic, entirely remote workplace they were in.
Moving forward, the job market will favor teachers who show that they are flexible, adaptable, and competent to work from several platforms, face-to-face and remote. One thing we have learned during this pandemic is that many services can be provided using technology, so the job market could reflect this as well. For children with disabilities, some supplemental services such as counseling and behavioral therapy could still be offered, uninterrupted, when classroom instruction has gone remote. The job description for teachers and service providers will change to reflect the necessity to be flexible.
Dr. Thomas Uhle: An outstanding resume would show evidence of ongoing professional development and membership in professional organizations. It is important that teachers remain current on topics such as educational technology, exceptional student education, and educational neuroscience. Additionally, having certifications and qualifications in multiple areas is beneficial. In the Exceptional Student Education K-12 Bachelor's Program at Miami Dade College, for example, our graduates exit our program having passed their State Professional Exam, their ESE K-12 State Certification, a Reading endorsement, and a TESOL endorsement. They attend professional development programs and are encouraged to join professional organizations during their program. A resume that shows that level of experience in the field looks quite impressive, even for a recent graduate.
Dr. Thomas Uhle: Especially due to the pandemic, there is a teacher shortage in many areas of the country. Work opportunities are available for qualified graduates. At Miami Dade College, we work very closely with Miami Dade County Public Schools to ensure that our graduates are able to secure a position upon graduation. Larger cities tend to have larger school districts and therefore a wider range of positions available. Having a background in Exceptional Student Education should increase the likelihood of finding a job no matter where the graduate wants to go.