February 11, 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.
Lisa Unico Ph.D.: Employers want new employees to come with specific knowledge and skills that are directly relevant to thier particular businesses. This is why there is a recent push in higher education for "job skills training." For chemistry and biochemistry students this translates into lab skills including broad exposure to instrumentation and even trouble shooting of instruments. This absolutely requires many hours of in-person laboratory instruction. In the pandemic most universities ahd to shift to all virtual instruction, at least temporarily. Obviously, students do not have access to high caliber instrumentation in their homes. Thus, this disruption in laboratory instruction is likely to hinder students who graduate during the pandemic and even those who graduate shortly after it has been resolved.
Lisa Unico Ph.D.: Many, if not most, entry-level positions in biotechnology and chemical industries have shifted from direct employment to contract employment through temporary employment agencies. Thus, many new graduates may find that they must work initially for a temp agency and then after several months to a year, they will be able to be hired to work for their host companies directly. Unfortunately, temporary employers may offer fewer benefits and/or lower pay, but they do provide entry-level access to careers that will provide high pay, good benefits and opportunities for advancement.
Department of Natural and Applied ScienceWebsite
Nicholas Hestand Ph.D.: It is difficult to predict this with any kind of certainty. It seems to me that as long as graduates are flexible, they should be able to find employment. Although the demand for some chemicals (like oil) have significantly decreased due to the pandemic, the demand for others (like cleaning supplies) has skyrocketed. I think the impact will depend mainly on the market, and I am not an expert on that.
We had two students graduate with Chemistry degrees last May. One graduate found a good job doing analytical work and started working in August. The other enrolled in graduate school. Although it is a small sample size, our students seemed to still have success entering the workforce or pursuing further educational training, despite the pandemic.
For students worried about possibly entering a rough job market, enrolling in graduate school may be worth considering. By the time they graduate (in 4-6 years), the pandemic should hopefully be behind us and the job market may look more normal.
Nicholas Hestand Ph.D.: I can only speculate because I am not an employer, but if I were, I would want to hire employees that are mature, independent, responsible, and have exceptional problem-solving skills. I would want my employees to take ownership of their projects and not need constant oversight to ensure that the job gets done correctly. Chemistry degree holders tend to be good problem solvers. Most other technical skills used by chemists (running lab equipment, following a protocol for a certain analysis, etc.) can be learned on the job. The skills mentioned above, however, are far harder to teach.
Nicholas Hestand Ph.D.: A good job is one that is enjoyable and fulfilling. I think it is really important that graduates look for work they find interesting and don't mind doing for at least 8 hours a day. Since so much time is spent at work, the quality of one's work experience has a large bearing on the overall quality of their life.
Of course, things like salary, benefits, and the potential for upward mobility are also important. However, I don't think recent graduates should be too picky in this regard when looking for their first job. The most important thing is getting a foot in the door, establishing yourself as a good employee, and gaining the skills necessary to progress in your career.