February 2, 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.
Yupeng Chen Ph.D.: Although it is difficult to find jobs because of the pandemic and slow economic recovery, candidates with good professional skills and education background will be more competitive than before. For example, technology companies (such as IT, biotech and pharmaceuticals) are still hiring while many other industries are heavily affected by the pandemic.
Yupeng Chen Ph.D.: Impacted by the pandemic, employers will prefer candidates who can work remotely and communicate effectively in a virtual office environment, so it is very important for candidates to get familiar with general office software as well as commonly used virtual communication platforms.
Yupeng Chen Ph.D.: Any job that fits the student's overall career goal is a good job. Many students weigh too much on salary which should not be the dominating factor. It is more important for students to think about whether this job can offer a platform to learn valuable skills and a path to develop a successful career.
Ge Wang Ph.D.: A major trend is that artificial intelligence / machine learning / deep learning is making an increasingly great impact on many aspects of research, development and applications. This is a paradigm shift towards data-driven, well-connected, and highly intelligence communities. Our BME department has significantly increased data science and learning-based contents. It seems that students like these materials very much.
Ge Wang Ph.D.: As mentioned above, the AI stuff has attracted immediate attentions. The relevant courses will prepare our students better for the job market in the next several years. RPI has been promoting these things for a number of years, as an integral part of our strategic plan. Partnership with IBM and other companies is also invaluable.
Ge Wang Ph.D.: This depends on students. As a major engineer school, our students are in great need by both established and start-up companies. Research-oriented training and jobs are also excellent options.
Kristen Labazzo Ph.D.: Only time will tell, but what I can say is, students who were/are in critical lab-based courses during a remote learning phase will obviously be impacted. While our professors have done their best to adapt lab classes and even research opportunities virtually, nothing beats handling an instrument, running an assay, or performing an experiment in person. I am concerned that the students who had a bulk of their hands-on courses during virtual learning have missed out on learning skills that their older or younger peers will have.
Kristen Labazzo Ph.D.: Having a solid core academic foundation is always important, and certificates can be useful, but I think for industry preparedness, a co-op or internship is the best experience. Experiential learning truly immerses you in the environment, and puts all of the academic learnings into context.
Kristen Labazzo Ph.D.: Soft skills are definitely on the radar more than they used to be! It's not enough to be technically skilled at your job; companies want people who can communicate and fit into the culture of the company. So I would definitely say good communication and writing skills. You need to be able to describe what you do in 2 minutes if you run into the CEO (the "elevator pitch") but also how to give an effective presentation to a diverse audience at a company meeting. There is also a new term; Emotional IQ. Companies want workers who respond appropriately to situations, whether it be switching gears b/c the CTO wants data from another experiment for a board meeting, or receiving constructive feedback from a manager. You have to be flexible and adaptive and sometimes you have to pivot unexpectedly.