September 5, 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.
Arizona State University
Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota
University of Utah
Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center
The University of Tennessee - Knoxville
Hawaii Pacific University
University of Wisconsin - Madison
University of Idaho
Elon University School of Law
Case Western Reserve University School of Law
Montana State University
Maryjo Douglas Zunk: The pandemic and significant environmental, economic, social, and political shifts create opportunity trends in the job market for recent and new graduates in economic and community development, program evaluation, public finance, and emergency planning, security, and sustainability.
Maryjo Douglas Zunk: Data analytics are crucial to the planning and implementation of public programs and services. Data collection and management systems, communication, and IT security will remain critical to connecting the government with the people. Analysts will be in high demand to gather, review, and communicate with decision-makers.
Maryjo Douglas Zunk: An increase in demand for public management in local government with continued business and population movement. On average, management professionals' need is 13% higher than the U.S. average for all occupations.
Mike Hagarty: Job trends are volatile and segmented. With unemployment ranging from a record high of 14.7 percent in April (Bureau of Labor Statistics) to 6.7 percent in November (Trading Economics), we are on a roller coaster, and it is hard to predict when and where we will land post COVID-19. For example, U.S. private businesses were projected to hire 410,000 workers in November, and that was off by more than 100,000 with the significant rise in COVID cases and lockdowns (Trading Economics).
The impact of the pandemic will hit different segments of the economy differently. For example, healthcare and online services (Amazon alone has added nearly 500,000 jobs during the first several months of the pandemic) are strong and growing. Other Industries, including hospitality and travel, are experiencing significant reductions.
Students entering the workforce should not wait until their preferred segment of the economy bounces back or stabilizes but should look at who is hiring and find an opportunity there that matches their skills and abilities.
Mike Hagarty: The most important element of a gap year for a graduate is to do it with purpose and a plan. Before taking the gap year try to answer the question, "What do I want to be true at the end of the year?" For example, if you are a college graduate and you want to apply (or re-apply) to graduate school next year, what do you need to do in the gap year to succeed at being accepted (e.g., entrance exam practice, work or internship experience that will make you more qualified)? If you want to change direction or don't have a career direction yet, what will help you arrive at clarity or prepare you for the transition (perhaps testing a new field, volunteering, learning a new culture)? If you want to land a position at a dream company, set specific networking or skill-building goals (including certificates and other professional credentials) so that you are at a different place at the end of the gap year.
I know this is a graduate question, but if you are an incoming freshman and decide on a gap year, the same concept holds - fill the year with learning experiences that will bring clarity, experience, and direction. In all cases, set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timed) to be intentional about growing your knowledge, skills, abilities, and network of support.
Mike Hagarty: An often quoted statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is that Americans between the ages of 18 and 48 will hold an AVERAGE of eleven different jobs. Your first job out of college will almost certainly not be your last, so don't sit back and wait for the "perfect" job to fall in your lap. Every job holds opportunities to earn, to learn, to contribute, and to network. Learn from each job, and take those new insights, skills, and networks with you to a new position or new company. Over time, you will put together a tapestry of experiences, which will create the picture of your career.
Regardless of the job market, the most valuable thing a graduate has is their education. They have a network (career services at their school, alumni, partner businesses and organizations); they have acquired knowledge and new critical-thinking skills; they are problem solvers; and hopefully they have gained experience through internships or externships. The lifetime earning potential makes the education price tag an excellent long-term return on investment. Getting a bachelor's degree brings the average lifetime earnings to $2.3 million. That's more than 31 percent more than workers with an associate's degree and 74 percent more than those with a high school diploma (Georgetown Center on Education and the workforce).
Sarah Kovalesky: I think the pandemic's impact on graduates is still a little bit unknown as we see changes and different waves in different parts of the country. I believe and hope that most of the impact will be in the short-term.
After a period of little hiring, we are seeing companies and organizations hiring again. We know it is an employer's market right now, meaning postings have more applicants, and employers have their pick of qualified candidates. I think it is fair to say that it might take longer for graduates to find jobs, and networking is more critical now than ever!
The last thing I have been reminding a lot of Psychology students these last several months is that their degree offers a lot of versatility in the world of work. The ability to identify your skills and recognize the transferability of them is critical!
Sarah Kovalesky: This is kind of like the common, "what do I do with this degree" question I get as a Career Coach. I wish I had a magical folder to pull out with all of the answers in one place. Location and its place in the job search are based on the individual. It will be a non-negotiable, while for others, it might just be another factor to consider. As I mentioned, with the pandemic's impact, there is so much that a graduate could do with a psychology degree that could take them all over the country.
Sarah Kovalesky: Technology is continually impacting and changing everything that we do in the world of work. The field of Psychology is no exception. The virus pushed us into a virtual world that I think will remain a big part of our lives, especially in the helping world of Psychology.
Peter Ausili: New lawyers will need to have excellent written and oral communication skills, particularly the ability to effectively communicate through virtual means with others-including clients, other lawyers, and judges. They will also need to develop excellent negotiating skills. Litigators must be prepared to conduct all pretrial matters in virtual space, and to resolve issues efficiently through alternative dispute mechanisms, as trials become rarer than in the past-and even rarer going forward.
Peter Ausili: As a result of the pandemic, there likely will be more remote work opportunities for new lawyers. So the right places to work may very well be close to home. That may include working remotely for a geographically distant law firm or organization, or, perhaps, for a law firm that operates completely virtually.
Peter Ausili: Technology is likely to profoundly impact the practice of law in the next five years-and beyond. The pandemic has hastened lawyers' willingness to embrace technology in performing their work, from simple software applications to complex platforms and artificial intelligence. To meet the ever more cost-conscious individual and corporate clients' demands, lawyers will need to utilize technological tools and innovations for delivering efficient yet effective legal services.
The University of Tennessee - Knoxville
College of Law
Brad Morgan: With increased frequency, employers with whom we work emphasize the importance of new hires being able to demonstrate adaptability, effective communication, and efficiency. As the demands of not only consumers but regulatory bodies evolve, it is essential for those entering the workforce-and those who are already in the force-to acknowledge that just because we successfully employed one strategy years ago (or even last week) does not mean that we can use the same strategy with the same success in the future. Adaptability. Likewise, it is essential to communicate complex ideas and concepts in ways that simplify and add clarity to a discussion. Both of these skills contribute to workers being efficient in deed and word.
Brad Morgan: In our team's experience, there are certain areas of the country where specific jobs are more prevalent. So a job seeker needs to think intentionally about what type of work they are interested in. For example, if a graduate is seeking employment in the financial sector, it may be essential to look for opportunities in areas with existing extensive economic infrastructure. Similarly, if a graduate is looking for work in a government setting, areas with significant government offices (whether local, state, or federal) should be considered.
Brad Morgan: Technology is a tool. It can make work more comfortable, more efficient, and produce better results in the right hands. In untrained hands, technology can become burdensome and detract from the process, rather than aid the same. Because technological tools are continually evolving and vary from workplace to workplace, becoming familiar with a wide variety of technologies and their applications is likely to be more helpful in the legal sector than becoming an expert in any single technology.
Hawaii Pacific University
Career Development Center
Michael Van Lear: Research, communication, writing, foreign language proficiency, and critical thinking are top skills that stand out for area studies graduates. Experience would include internships and participation in related student clubs/organizations such as HPU's Model UN club. A top Honolulu internship site for these majors would be the Daniel Inouye Asian Pacific Center for Security Studies.
Michael Van Lear: If taking a gap year, joining a professional organization related to area studies would be advised. Joining such organizations provides further insight into this field and offers graduates professional networking opportunities. Being an active member is key to making the most of this experience. Attend virtual workshops, professional development, etc.
Michael Van Lear: Data analysis, cybersecurity, AI, and geoscience are technologies that will likely be prevalent in this field in the years ahead. Equally important is the acquisition of foreign language proficiencies.
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Greg Reed: Young graduates will need to communicate effectively through their presentation and writing skills and their ability to interact with others in social/professional settings. Strong technical and analytical skills, including having a working knowledge of Excel and Argus, will be essential differentiators. Finally, evaluating a project and ascertaining how to tackle the issues and problems in its parts will be critical.
Greg Reed: While Covid-19 has demonstrated that working from home can occur from any location with reliable internet connectivity, I believe the ability to interact with others, face-to-face, will remain an important consideration once a vaccine is introduced. Geographically, areas with lower housing costs may hold the greater appeal in the near term, but longer-term, folks will gravitate to where the opportunities arise. In terms of specific aspects of real estate, I sense that solid valuation skills and the ability to address troubled real estate issues will be essential.
Greg Reed: Real estate has been slow and reluctant to adapt to technological advances and find ways to harness data. Many industry disruptors have successfully demonstrated the ability to use technology and data to improve property performance through higher energy efficiency, analyzing performance metrics, and integrated systems that combine multiple operational property components. Being open to technological change and performing the cost benefit analyses required to gauge the value of technical implementation will be a required skill set.
Wendy Wegner: Any transferrable skills that show teamwork, communication, safety, and leadership. These skills can come from many positions, volunteer opportunities, and involvement on and off-campus. When students have a general idea of the career path they want to set out toward, they can fill in skill gaps with experience. It is never too early to start looking for part-time and summer employment connected to natural resources. Almost all communities have volunteer opportunities that can be a great way to gain valuable experience.
Each individual has unique interests and goals. Set your sights on your destination and build skills that will increase your employability. It could be policy, landscape management, community work, education, fieldwork, or a combination of these, to name a few. It helps to look at job descriptions of the career you strive for so that you can see what the minimum qualifications trend toward. Of course, connect with campus resources like faculty, staff, and career advisors to help you on your journey.
Wendy Wegner: There is some mythology that technology creates a separation from the natural world. While there is no replacement for immersion in nature, technology can be beneficial in many ways. In 2008, I taught a distance class to 5th graders in New Jersey about wolf behavior from the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota. This was cutting edge technology at the time. It was incredible to connect to kids at that distance; since that time, I have seen how fire management operates through technology by mapping and coordinating restoration.
National Parks have installed webcams so that we can observe distant places and connect to them. Since March, we have been propelled into an excellent opportunity to utilize these technologies. If we thoughtfully use them, more people can click and engage with natural areas. Technology can also help support protection and restoration after significant weather and fire events, just as some examples. There are so many creative individuals out there that will utilize and advance technology to support our natural world.
Wendy Wegner: Most certainly. We are in the middle of a historical event, and it can be challenging to see the light. In challenging times, some of the best creativity and innovation comes out. I meet with my students that are determined to solve the climate crisis, find new ways to fight wildland fire, change policies, and better understand soil and water, to name a few. I do not doubt that some of our brightest stars are about to emerge because of the pandemic and have a positive impact on natural resources and society as a whole.
Allie Grill: The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) promote eight career readiness competencies that all college graduates should possess: digital technology, global/intercultural fluency, critical thinking/problem-solving, teamwork, career management, leadership, oral/written communication, and professionalism/work ethic. In my opinion, the differentiator will not be how advanced candidates are in each of these areas. Still, how they're using these competencies in convergence with one another to solve significant challenges our world will face in the coming decades (climate change, inclusion, and equity, to name a few). For example, how can candidates demonstrate their commitment to global/intercultural fluency through their leadership in a club or organization or use their digital technology skills to solve problems for their summer internship sites?
In addition to these requisite competencies, candidates should indicate a specialty in a given academic or technical area to demonstrate a unique lens they may apply to their work. Coding and data analytic skills are trending qualifications in the job market right now, but not one platform reigns supreme. For example, last year, I listened to a panel of Ph.D. level economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia talk about their research, and each panelist referenced a different analytical software or coding language that they used to execute their research. I recommend that students gain expertise in one platform, such as R, to demonstrate their digital technology skills in action, but keep an open mind to learning others as the need arises. With the advent of free, online training available, it is reasonably straightforward for job seekers to pick up another technical skill if required.
Allie Grill: This pandemic state has disrupted the concept of physical location for organizations and their workforces. I expect that this trend will continue as an enduring statement of our pandemic. That said, job candidates need to truly consider the importance a physical community plays in the job search strategy. At this stage, I think it's essential for job seekers to clarify the significance that their support system will contribute to their post-graduate lives and make decisions that prioritize their answers. For example, maybe it's essential to be near an aging family member or a sibling rather than to move somewhere new for a job without an existing support structure.
The answer to the question, "Where are the jobs located?" is a complicated one because it entirely depends on the industry and employer. While the significant fin-tech hubs of Silicon Valley, New York City, and Boston are well known, emerging locations of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and internationally in Dublin, Singapore, and Hong Kong are becoming apparent (according to FinTech Magazine).
Healthcare is an occupational field with the most growth projected until 2029. According to Becker's Hospital Review, most digital health start-ups are located in California, New York, Massachusetts, and Texas.
Allie Grill: Technological advances, including enhanced data insights, are likely to impact the business field in the next five years in significant ways. In many ways, COVID-19 accelerated technological advances that many companies foreshadowed much further down the road. In this race to fulfill both business partner and consumer needs, there's a good chance that technological innovation will outpace regulation. What we need to see is a workforce with a strong moral/ethical foundation, in addition to digital technology skills, to navigate these rapid changes in a way that both serves the common good and overall bottom line. To that end, we need to prepare a technologically savvy workforce as well as morally and ethically minded.
Also, in a data-centric world, we should be concerned about the accurate representation of the information and its connection to consumer needs. Data insights will only be as useful as the story we tell through them. This is where I see the value of business education in a liberal arts environment. These students with a well-rounded academic background commonly synthesize, draw conclusions, and summarize concepts.
Melissa Duncan: Graduates need to be adaptable, to work in multi-generational settings, and familiar with the law and technology and business, and how those enhance law practice in today's world. Graduates should also be familiar with interviewing and counseling and should understand their role in society as lawyer-leaders who can provide both counseling and advocate for those who may not be able to do so for themselves.
Melissa Duncan: Work opportunities depend on the needs of a particular geographic area. Still, generally, places with strong financial, healthcare, and food & drug ties are the areas where graduates should be looking for work opportunities. Finance, health law, and food & drug law are examples of practice areas increasingly in need of more lawyers.
Melissa Duncan: Technology has a tremendous impact on the legal field right now, as law firms and other traditional providers have had to adapt to remote and paperless work during the COVID-19 pandemic. I expect those trends to continue beyond the epidemic, and for technology to continue to impact efficiencies in legal research in the next five years.
Case Western Reserve University School of Law
Department of Law
Esq. Mary Beth Moore Esq.: New graduates entering the workplace need to have perseverance and grit, open-mindedness, and strong communication skills. Additionally, a return to civility is currently, and will continue to be, in high demand for new lawyers.
Esq. Mary Beth Moore Esq.: Law school graduates can find jobs all over the world, but they will need to focus on cities of interest during their educational careers and make connections early on in those cities to make the career path a smoother one.
Esq. Mary Beth Moore Esq.: Technology has already impacted the practice of law and nontraditional legal jobs, and that impact will only grow. Whether it's from the format of delivery of services, such as holding hearings and client meetings over Zoom, to the way research and e-discovery are conducted electronically, to actual fields of law being tech-based, such as data privacy law and some intellectual property law areas, tech is everywhere and will continue to be important to the legal profession.
Mariah Stopplecamp: These upcoming graduates will face challenges that most of us have yet to see. There are hiring freezes across industries, and many companies are remaining fully remote. Young graduates should be very advanced in their tech skills and be incredibly self-motivated because they will be most likely working remotely. Having a job force that can adapt and embrace the virtual working experience is vital to the success of the company. The more data analytics skills a young graduate can obtain is also a very big draw for employers.
Mariah Stopplecamp: Right now, we see companies in larger metropolitan areas being the hubs of employment for recent grads. These are the companies that are large enough to survive the fiscal challenges that COVID has provided. These larger metro areas are working remotely, currently, and are providing recent grads the flexibility to stay located where they are.
Mariah Stopplecamp: We have already seen a boom in the use of technology due to COVID. People are now proficient at virtual meetings, Zoom or WebEx, electronic signatures, and more efficient document storage and organization. In the future, hopefully, we will have a strong job force that can embrace and adapt to changes in technology. This allows industries and companies to positively grow and become more creative in their designs and problem-solving skills.