January 10, 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.
University of Maryland
University of Nebraska at Omaha
Georgia State University
Francis Marion University
Arkansas State University
Rocky Mountain Prep
University of Kansas
Lorain County Community College
School of Social Work
Livia Polise: The pandemic has also had a deep and personal impact on the lives of social work students, mirroring the impact on communities and clients served in social work settings. Our students have learned to be resilient in the face of uncertainty, as well as the importance of seeking out and cultivating support and community. These experiences will enhance the ability of our students to engage in client-centered and empathy driven social work practices.
Livia Polise: The pandemic has heightened the realities of systemic disparities and the importance of "case-to-cause" social work practice. New graduates will be called to engage in practice that fully encompasses the social justice mission of the social work profession, addressing the needs of individuals, families and communities, while simultaneously reimagining and rebuilding systems and structures to promote greater equity.
Livia Polise: The profession's signature pedagogy, field education, provides opportunities for students to develop a foundational skill set that can be generalizable to many different practice contexts. Resumes for new graduates may highlight tasks in different settings, the application of skills across diverse domains of practice, and a skill set that encompasses micro, mezzo, and macro levels of experience. Community engagement and social justice actions are activities that demonstrate a commitment to the core values of the profession.
School of Social WorkWebsite
Dr. Manoj Pardasani Ph.D.: I believe that the pandemic has somewhat changed our ideas of what constitutes effective practice. As many agencies transitioned to remote services, professionals and recipients of services had to learn how to integrate technology and "distance" into their daily lives. Therefore, when we return to the "new normal," many social work agencies will integrate remote service opportunities in their regular practices. This does not mean that in-person services are going away anytime, but utilizing technology would allow social services to be accessible to a larger (and more diverse) group of consumers. From an educational perspective, we believe that schools of social work will have to integrate technology-assisted practices (intakes, diagnostic assessments, care planning, interventions, etc.) into their curricula. Preparing students to effectively practice in multiple modalities will be critical to the future of our profession. Those social workers already in the field might need to engage with additional training or continuing education opportunities in order to enhance their skills to meet these emerging practice needs.
Dr. Manoj Pardasani Ph.D.: Some of the skills that social work graduates need in order to successfully enter the workforce haven't changed since the inception of social work education. Social work graduates need to be able to think critically, possess analytical and strategic problem solving skills, be able to engage and work with diverse populations and be impactful advocates for their clients and programs. But as the world around us evolves, we need to examine what additional skills and knowledge should social workers possess. We believe that social workers need to learn how to be social justice advocates, fighting for equity and equality. They need to be able to work productively in interdisciplinary settings and integrate technology more intensively in their daily practice. As they advance in their careers, many social workers will be presented with opportunities for leadership in organizations and communities. They need skills in transformative leadership, effective management, governance, fiscal planning, board development and community planning. These will be critical to ensure that social workers retain their leadership role on social service agencies and in governmental organizations.
Dr. Manoj Pardasani Ph.D.: I believe that employers are looking for different strengths, skills and knowledge depending on the length of time in practice. For instance, in the case of recent graduates, employers look for internship experiences, fellowships or specializations taken while obtaining their social work degree. Past volunteer experiences are helpful as well. Employers are interested in candidates who show initiative, are passionate about social work practice, are able to adapt to diverse work environments and are eager to learn and grow. With experienced social workers, employers are looking at the trajectory of one's career./ How have the various employment experiences contributed to the growth and development of this professional. What skills, knowledge and insights have they developed cumulatively? They are hoping to see a commitment to continued learning and examples of having taken initiative in previous jobs. Overall, for both new and experienced social workers, possessing a social work license is critical. Most positions now require the social worker to be licensed by the state in which they practice. However, social workers have not always been quick to pursue licensure. I believe that is changing and the expectations for social work professionals to be licensed will only grow further.
University of Maryland
Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special EducationWebsite
Richard Shin Ph.D.: Like most situations, there are challenges and opportunities. As a counselor preparation program, we are concerned that our students are not able to get the experiences associated with physically engaging in their internship sites. There's really no replacement for the range of experiences and situations that interns are required to respond to when they're at their internship sites. On the other hand, the pandemic has provided opportunities for students to learn how to be counselors in the virtual environment. This is kind of priceless because no matter what the world looks like when we reach a more stable place with the virus, we know that professional interactions in the virtual environment are here to stay. Therefore, students have honed their technological skills, learned to be creative, and become more comfortable working in this environment. They've also enhanced their resiliency traits by navigating these extremely stressful times, while also studying for their graduate degrees in counseling.
Richard Shin Ph.D.: Related to above, there have inevitably been some gaps in counselor training over the past year. Our students have not been able to engage in face to face individual or group counseling. They've not had the opportunity to develop relationships and work collaboratively with colleagues in person. Our graduates will have developed a great set of skills in terms of working in the online environment, but many will need to focus on developing the interpersonal, counseling, advocacy, etc. skills that are required of professional counselors.
Richard Shin Ph.D.: In the most basic sense, graduates who have experiences and skills on their resumes that set them apart from their cohort tend to stand out to employers. What sorts of extra leadership, advocacy, skill development, etc. opportunities has the applicant pursued outside of the program requirements of a counseling program? Everyone will have internship experiences because those are required. However, not everyone will have an example of a brief intervention that you developed and executed, which was focused on addressing the lack of representation of Black and Indigenous students in AP classes in your local high school. Initiating impactful efforts like this will definitely make you stand out.
University of Nebraska at Omaha
Grace Abbott School of Social WorkWebsite
Dr. Susan Reay: There is always a need for social work. As an essential worker, individuals who hold social work degrees are positioned for job opportunities in multiple health care sectors to include medical, mental health, corrections, policy, and other vital areas of practice. One of the lessons learned from the pandemic is that social work is here to stay. As a recession proof job, social work is more vital than ever with job opportunities readily available.
Dr. Susan Reay: The year after high school students are growing and changing. This year is about self-exploration, regardless if you are enrolled in an institution of higher learning. I recommend that individuals who decide not to enroll in higher education directly after high school take time to reflect on what they are learning, who they are, and learn from the world around them. Journaling is a great way to do this or photography or other creative means of reflection.
Dr. Susan Reay: It is essential for graduating seniors to develop a lifespan career plan that includes identifying experiences they want, ones they might want to seek out, and the identification of ones they are not interested in exploring. Central to the plan is obtaining quality supervision. I tell all my graduating seniors that no matter what job you take, make sure that you have a quality supervisor. Start looking for mentors and people you can trust. Keep those folks close to you and hold on to them over the life of your career.
Georgia State University
School of Social WorkWebsite
Dr. Susan Snyder Ph.D.: Although the pandemic has brought a lot of challenges, we saw our graduating students excel in the job market, but most had to adapt to virtual interviews and remote work environments.
Dr. Susan Snyder Ph.D.: Being able to demonstrate clear experience is really helpful. Students should not include passive activities like attending meetings or menial tasks like making copies, but skills that show what they are qualified to do, like community organizing, event planning, grant writing, program evaluation, or facilitating groups. Additionally, students who demonstrate strong written and verbal communication skills, including social media skills, tend to do well. Working collaboratively, including across organizations, is important for a lot of different positions our students seek. If students' resumes show that they can also analyze data they can have even more options.
Dr. Susan Snyder Ph.D.: We have had students find jobs in the South and across the country. While the job market is more challenging than prior markets, our graduating students have been very successful. Job searches should be approached like full-time jobs that require time-management, organizational skills, and hard work.
Francis Marion University
Dr. Jessica Burke: Yes, there will be an enduring impact on college graduates, as there is an impact on all of us. The job interviewing process will be very different, as I'd expect there to be more Zoom interviews and now wearing a mask during face-to-face interviews. We've been taught to shake hands during interviews, and now that has changed. Once starting a job, all social interactions will be very different with social distancing, more Zoom meetings, and adhering to other CDC guidelines. There will also be more work-from-home jobs available to new graduates than in the past, which it seems some recent graduates would want that opportunity, but others may not.
It seemed many of our students would prefer this type of employment in order to protect their families and themselves from COVID-19. Although a vaccine has been approved, it is uncertain when we will return to normalcy. I also expect an increased demand in the healthcare field and other service sectors. However, students at Francis Marion University will be pretty well-adjusted to these types of changes at their jobs given they have been exposed to distance learning, attending classes through Zoom, and following CDC guidelines on campus.
Dr. Jessica Burke: Here are the skills I think graduates will need in the coming years: Technological skills and communication skills. The ability to work via the Internet and using video conferencing software will be very important, and along with this very important skill, graduates will need to be able to construct a professionally written e-mail and have really good verbal communication skills. Finally, being able to manage one's time will be extremely important, especially for those who are working from home to ensure deadlines are met, etc.
Dr. Jessica Burke: The skills that would really stand out on resumes include experience with distance learning; Zoom; and other technological skills, such as creating and editing videos; exceptional written and oral communication skills; and research skills, such as conducting data analysis and being able to correctly interpret the data would not hurt during a time when facts are often distorted.
Arkansas State University
Department of Psychology & CounselingWebsite
Dr. Amy Pearce Ph.D.: 2020 has presented many new challenges or further stained existing ones. We've witnessed extraordinary demands on medical clinics, unprecedented unemployment, sudden changes within our educational institutions, and received continual reminders to socially distance or self-quarantine. Humans are social beings. We also prefer experiences that are predictable and controllable. This year we haven't been provided with much of what we require to flourish, or even maintain-hence, the stress mounts. For these reasons, I predict a rise in the mental health profession sectors. The need for clinical and counseling psychologists, mental health counselors, and substance abuse therapists will rise.
Dr. Amy Pearce Ph.D.: Typically, I recommend that all psychology majors gain research experience and communicate their findings via conference presentations, or peer-reviewed publications. Highlighting analytical and quantitative skills, plus software training is recommended. Graduates who know how to collect, enter, analyze, interpret, and report data will be desired. If a student plans to directly enter the workforce in a psychology-related field, then picking up courses to complete undergraduate certificate programs, such as neuropsychological testing or statistics, will be beneficial. As will be any internships or applicable job experiences.
Dr. Amy Pearce Ph.D.: A great thing about psychology is the number of options available to degree-earners! Psychology majors aren't confined to one job title or geographical locale. Work opportunities will be largely dictated by the experience and skills acquired along the path of earning a bachelor's degree. This is why, in addition to the requisite coursework, it's important to gain relevant applicable experiences and acquire additional training and skills. The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook, or their O*NET Online, are good places to start searching for projections on specific careers and factors related to employability in psychology. Although a bachelor's degree in psychology doesn't make someone a psychologist, a myriad of opportunities exist in business, academic, and human service settings, which are in every city.
Department of Social WorkWebsite
Peggy Proudfoot Harman Ph.D.: There are several levels of social work education, and each provides essential qualifications for a variety of professional roles. A Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited program provides professionals with the skills to deliver case management, home health social services, and child welfare social services, to name a few. An important point to remember is that all BSW and Master of Social Work (MSW) programs must be accredited by CSWE.
There are approximately 255 CSWE accredited MSW programs in the United States. Not all MSW programs are alike with regard to specializations and program options. MSW program options range from face-to-face classes that are held once or twice weekly, to virtual courses offered through remote learning platforms such as Blackboard featuring synchronous and asynchronous sessions, and finally, totally online courses and programs.
There is a wide range of social work specializations in MSW programs. For example, behavioral health services administration, policy practice, behavioral health services, substance use disorders practice, military social work, and school social work. Many programs that are focused on behavioral health have responded to the fallout from the recent pandemic, taking into consideration client travel and health issues, and are offering courses in tele-behavioral health. These courses prepare students to provide services remotely and will continue to be needed in the future.
The field of social work is always growing, and actually, thrives when the environment is experiencing a crisis. Social workers are experienced in crisis intervention and are highly-trained to conduct assessments and interventions. Both BSW and MSW graduates entering the workforce this year will find that they are in high demand, and employers in this working environment will find social workers who are prepared to provide quality assessments and interventions in the most difficult situations.
Rocky Mountain PrepWebsite
Abby Worland: The pandemic has made job security an increasingly important factor given rising unemployment rates. I think we will see an increase in the retention of currently employed workers in their positions.
I'm curious to see how much of the virtual world we've built will carry over once the pandemic ends. Will more positions convert to remote work permanently? Will schools continue to offer virtual learning as an option? Regardless of what carries over, I feel confident saying that tech literacy and the ability to self-manage your work and your time will be increasingly important skills in the job market.
Abby Worland: At the most basic level, all jobs and careers depend on your ability to do two things: solve problems and communicate with others. Spend your gap year developing those skills.
Many people recommend "following your passion" in your work. I would adjust that and recommend instead that you pursue work that has a purpose and mission that align with your personal values. Spend your gap year identifying what those values are. All jobs are going to have tough moments, that is the nature of work, but if the work is meaningful to you, it is far easier to be resilient.
Abby Worland: Below are four pieces of advice that I give to early career professionals (and I still tell myself these things on a daily basis!):
- Work very, very hard, and pay attention to detail.
- You will change as a person, so your hopes and plans for your career will also change. Be okay with that.
- Pay attention to the people around you: know them, care about them, and help them.
- Take initiative.
University of Kansas
Department of Applied Behavioral ScienceWebsite
Dr. Florence DiGennaro Reed Ph.D.: This remains to be seen. Given unemployment rates and job options last May, I suspect there will be fewer jobs available when students graduate.
Dr. Florence DiGennaro Reed Ph.D.: In my experience, employers appreciate real-world experience where students/recent graduates can apply the knowledge they learned in their courses to actual work settings. Thus, graduates who have had service-learning practicum courses, internships, or other relevant experiences have resumes that tend to stand out to future employers.
Dr. Florence DiGennaro Reed Ph.D.: Human-service settings desperately need employees right now. These settings generally have high turnover, and the pandemic has made it challenging to recruit highly-skilled employees. Locations serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (clinics, schools, educational centers, group homes, etc.) are getting creative to appeal to graduates. They offer unique and exciting professional development and growth opportunities and may pay for graduate education under certain circumstances.
Lorain County Community College
Jennifer Kukis: This is a scary time right now to be searching for a job, and especially, for someone new in the field. New graduates need to draw on the skills they developed in their education. Make a personal approach to the job search, it is going to be more about the connections you're making, and that includes leveraging your current network. Where you did your internship might not be able to hire you, but they have developed networks over the years and may be able to connect you to other people in the field to increase your ability to network.
Also look closer to home for networking possibilities. Do your parents know someone that might need some help right now? ... If not, maybe expanding that pool and reaching out to your faculty members? Are there any connections there that you can make to say to someone potentially, 'Hey, I know it's a difficult time right now, but these are the skills that I bring to the table.'
That leads me to, know your strengths and be comfortable talking about them. Social work is about building on a person's strengths. Everybody has strengths and available resources to help them take advantage of those talents. A social worker's job is, in part, to identify those strengths and help people take advantage of beneficial community resources. If you cannot do that for yourself how will you do it for others.
My last tip is that you might need to be open to work in a different area or population than you planned on while in school. First professional jobs are about gaining experience. You might find it easier to find a position with an agency working with the homeless or a food bank than a school or hospital at this time.
Social workers are needed more now than ever because they are helping vulnerable populations get the care they need during the global pandemic. With high levels of unemployment comes higher levels of stress and anxiety that can exacerbate abuse and neglect, and social workers across the country are helping families and communities get through this extremely challenging time.
Jennifer Kukis: Well, tele-health services will increase and, I think, we will see other types of social services using virtual means, such as Zoom, to provide services and offer programming.
Jennifer Kukis: In Ohio, Social workers earn an average yearly salary of $49,260. Wages typically start from $31,670 and go up to $78,590.
In Ohio, Starting level social worker earnings begin at:
per year with a Bachelors Degree in Social Work, and around $13.00 for a Social Work Assistant with a two year degree in Human Services.
School for Social WorkWebsite
Rani Varghese: Graduates will need to have a strong commitment to social justice and embody that commitment in their work. In particular, they need the knowledge, awareness, and skills to engage different kinds of clients across social identities and social locations, in both micro and macro settings. One thing that would definitely benefit graduates is taking up another language, being able to provide bilingual services. They will also need knowledge and skills in trauma-informed practice, especially in evaluating current evidence-based practice models.
Rani Varghese: There is a need for social workers in all parts of the country and in all corners of the world. We are in a field where there is an endless need for social workers.
Rani Varghese: There will be more workers offering online therapy, making services more accessible for clients who have a range of needs. Also, there will be a shift in what I teach, as a faculty member, engaging my students about what social practice looks like beyond face-to-face encounters. I believe that the field will be creative and innovative in thinking more about ways technology can better train students (i.e., simulation) and support clients.