March 26, 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.
Dr. Larry Belcher: The biggest post-pandemic trend we see involves the re-definition of a workspace. Many firms went to remote work via video conferencing and other technology and decided that they really did not need expensive office space, particularly in large cities and so they have employees working fully or partially remote on a permanent basis. In addition, for "at work" office space many firms have moved away from "offices" or even cubbies to common "plug-in" stations where workers find a spot and have access to power and internet so they can work. Add in conference/meeting space and you can still have face to face meetings if necessary but a much smaller, less expensive office footprint. It remains to be seen how this will work out long-term in terms of worker productivity. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence of "Zoom fatigue" and a desire for more human interaction among some workers so this is a trend worth watching. Another trend has been the speed of change. COVID showed us in many ways that our environments can be altered substantially almost overnight. Supply chain management is a great example. From a worker perspective, not being intimidated by this type of possibility will be a key going forward.
Dr. Larry Belcher: In terms of technical skills, in technical disciplines intimate knowledge of Excel is a must. In addition, with more movement to remote work, proficiency with video meeting and presentation software has become more of a necessity I would say that an ability to learn new technology rather quickly will help students advance faster. Technology changes rapidly, and as we have seen with the COVID pivot to remote work, one may need to master new software or hardware quickly. Also, with the proliferation of data and data analysis familiarity with data visualization and analysis tools like Tableau is becoming more valuable. This goes along with the usual necessary skills, such as written/verbal communication, presentation skills, and adaptability/flexibility. COVID has also shown us all that change can occur quickly and our ability to roll with it and adapt our work to the environment is a key skill. The ability to deal with ambiguity is also becoming more needed, as the environment a worker faces may not have all of its parameters nailed down. The ability to navigate those circumstances will help any employee advance more quickly. This also bleeds over into the ability to solve problems quickly. When things move fast, you need to both be adaptable and be able to think through problems quickly. Another thing we have seen is that employers don't want to have to train new hires on things they expect they should have learned in college. So practice and proficiency in software, speaking, writing and presentations are keys so that a new hire can adapt quickly and get into the workflow faster without "hand-holding."
Dr. Larry Belcher: What we have seen in terms of salaries is something old, something new. The marketplace always pays more for technical skills like those in economics/accounting/finance (that's the old). However, the market in the last few years seemed to tighten and so firms have been willing to pay more for the talented students (that's the new). We had many of our top majors get very significant internships that led to offers after graduation at very good salaries. We also had firms literally begging us for candidates in technical fields because the pool was smaller. I don't know if this will continue, but for the last couple of years we have seen more competition for our graduates. Other old things still persist. The ability to set oneself apart from other candidates means a better shot at a high paying job. Significant experiences like internships or study abroad, technical skills (Excel, Bloomberg, data analysis), and the aforementioned ability to adapt and react mean more value added to an employer.
Kansas State University
Department of Educational Leadership
Richard Doll: The stress from the pandemic has caused many veteran school leaders to retire. So, there will be lots of movement this year as principal/assistant superintendents move into the superintendency and teachers move into principalships.
Richard Doll: Graduates should possess the ability to communicate (orally and in written form), problem solve, critically think about complex challenges, work in teams, complete tasks on time and contribute to the overall mission of the organization.
Richard Doll: Salaries in education have been stagnant over the past few years.
The University of Akron
George W. Davario School of Accountancy
Julianne Jones: Yes, I believe there will be an enduring impact on graduates. Most notably it will be the increase in flexible work schedules (i.e. work from anywhere programs). Employers and employees have now experienced remote working and how successful it can be. While remote working is not viable for every project, employers and employees are likely to work together to create flexible programs allowing employees to come to the office when needed and work from "anywhere" at other times.
Julianne Jones: Although other fields may have suffered a significant decline, hiring in accounting has not changed when compared to the prior year. Employers are actively hiring accounting graduates. This is important for our students and graduates to know, especially when making their post-graduation plans. A typical day at work will vary by employer and industry. Accounting is an exceptional degree because it gives graduates a large variety of options for career choices. Accountants can align their career choices with their strengths and the values that are important to them. Due to this variety, it is difficult to pinpoint what "a day at work" will look like. However, in most circumstances, the graduate will be working with a team to analyze data and provide insights to help make business decisions. For example, the work could be anywhere from: determining if there is an income tax due, to reviewing financial statements to determine if investment in a new location is a good idea, or to verifying whether a company's financial statements is prepared in accordance with the appropriate accounting standards. With the abundance of options in this field, a graduate can find a path that fits with their vision and develop a fulfilling career.
Julianne Jones: Data have consistently shown that people with either a CPA or a CMA license can earn substantially more. People should consider obtaining a Master's degree either in accounting or in taxation. This will not only help them pass the CPA or CMA exam, but also help them gain specialized knowledge and advance their careers. These advanced degrees can enhance people's expertise, the likelihood for faster promotions, the ability for lateral moves, and thus increase their long-term earnings. A specialized Master's degree has a greater link to students' success at the CPA exam and promotions than a second major or minor. Statistics consistently report that people in accounting with a specialized Master's degree earn substantially more over lifetime than those with a Bachelor's degree. Students at The University of Akron can enroll in our Accelerated Accounting degree programs, which allows them to graduate in 5 years with their Bachelor's and Master's degrees (BS/MSA or BS/MTax). This saves the students money and time and increases their long-term earning potential!
Michael Mamo Ph.D.: The pandemic of 2020 will change a number of things at the local, national, and at the global level and these will affect everyone in a certain way.
I do not think there will be a uniquie, disproportionate effect on new graduates other than those lingering impacts on the general population.
It will still take some time, I would think up to 5 years for things to go back to the pre-pandemic levels. Business, science and public health, politics, entertainment,
travel, education, and life in general were affected in profound ways and to varying degrees. In many cases the changes we have witnessed, such as the digitization of
life and the widening disparity between economic classes and racial groups will endure into the foreseable future. The pandemic has exposed huge holes in our public health infrastructure and I would expect substantial transformations in those areas.
I guess, any differential effect on graduates depends on where they fall on the spectrum.
Michael Mamo Ph.D.: The pandemic has brought about fundamental changes at the workplace, including remote work and the rising importance of technological proficiency. These in turn demand flexibility and much of the workplace will demand more versatility and flexibility.
Michael Mamo Ph.D.: Not sure how this relates to the previous themes but I do not believe the quest to increase one's earning potential is a noble goal. As humans we value (or should value) the benefits of enlightenment that come from education and life-long learning. Of course, enlightenment could translate to monetary gains. Enlightenment also comes with a greater sense of fulfilment in life and provides the person with traits of empathy, integrity, and other virtues such as justice and perseverance. Beyond improving ones earningn potential, education is a life-affirming process and that is what I would advise people in my field to aspire for.
Adam Cahill: Thankfully what we are seeing in regard to trends in the job market are good ones. Interactions taking place between employers and candidates, jobs being posted, and employers actively recruiting students and alumni in the plant science industries has kept steady throughout the pandemic. The biggest difference is that these things are now taking place virtually instead of on campus.
We have also seen a change with more remote work being mentioned in job descriptions and deeper intentionality placed on how employers are managing their employees to make sure they feel safe and are kept safe. More clear and transparent communication is really taking a front seat throughout the hiring process; mostly because a lot of procedures and processes are new given the pandemic, so everyone is being re-educated on how things are done.
Based on the employer requests for new hires and job postings we are receiving at the university, we are not seeing much, if any, reduction in work force in the plant science industry. Homes and businesses are still being landscaped, food still needs to be grown, and plant diseases are still being researched and combated just to name a few of the many driving forces in the positive job outlook for plant science industries.
Adam Cahill: Soft skills are often what can set a graduate apart in the hiring and promotion process. They are often items that are difficult to teach and many find it challenging to coach employees on development and growth in these skills; which is quite the contrast to the counterpart technical skills. Because of this, we like to refer to these skills as "power skills" and there are far too many to name them all.
Some of the more tangible power skills we like to see our graduates express competency in before they leave the university are oral and written communication mastery, self-reflection and growth in response to their experiences lived, adaptability and agility, listening to understand and not to respond, and finally, global and intercultural fluency.
These skills and the countless more, are all ones that can be developed and cultivated through practice, awareness, and life experiences. We highly encourage employers to build these skill's development into their operations and company culture as they are not items that should stop being taught once students leave education institutions, but ones that should be continually honed throughout their entire lives.
Adam Cahill: We have seen a steady increase in reported starting salaries from our graduates each year in the plant sciences area. Geographic location tends to be one of the biggest differentiators to help adjust for cost of living in a specific area. The "add on" benefits from companies is also often a contributing factor that comes into play. Signing bonuses or higher starting salaries for candidates who interned with the company are being seen more often as well as more flexible work arrangements. This comes as no surprise to our career office in response to the pandemic and evolving health and safely guidelines. With many organizations tightening their belts around monetary compensation, we are hearing more flexibility in candidates abilities to negotiate other benefit areas such as time off, work/life balance items, and other reimbursement items for them to accomplish their work such as work vehicles, phones, and travel expenses.
Joe Sheller: Pandemic is too new for me to gauge--it's been going on for a year but we have a small graduating class each year. I was worried about last year's class, but they seem to have found placements.
I sort of expect a kind of delayed impact. Lots of my journalism graduates go into marketing, PR, corporate writing or web writing--they are not strictly "service" jobs that were worst hit by pandemic, but do depend on companies that provide those services (not much work in restaurant marketing when all the restaurants are closed, for example). A chunk of the small pool of graduates I had were actually hired by the university where I teach because we had "churn" in our marketing-communication office, both a change of leadership and existing employees moving on off campus for other places--which is not an indication of a weak job market.
Remote job interviews via video conferencing are way more common.
Joe Sheller: Two things: Student media experience (work beyond the classroom) and comfort with technology--ability to think in any medium.
Joe Sheller: I don't have data on that, to be honest. Have not tracked.