May 19, 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.
Vicki Sauter Ph.D.: The most important trend is that we are all going to have problems going back to work. We are accustomed to the flexibility, the clothing trends, etc. If that is true, employers need to look for self-starters and self-motivators who can be productive home workers.
In terms of disciplines, I think the new hot jobs will be in supply chains and cybersecurity. We have certainly seen the impact of breaks in the supply chains and breaks into our computing files. We will all need to think along these lines: "How can we be sure our computers are safe when many people are not very good at keeping passwords and other security mechanisms? Is your system secure?"
Vicki Sauter Ph.D.: The major soft skill needed by all graduates is communication, and net etiquette (netiquette), especially by younger workers. These workers are on the computer or the phone at all times. They don't distinguish between professional communication and personal communication. That combined with most communication happening in text, in Zoom, etc. They need to understand that you cannot rely upon emoticons and abbreviations to get your points across to the boss or the customer.
Associated with this is a need for comfort with computers, software, and fast changes in both.
Vicki Sauter Ph.D.: Students in IST and cybersecurity are increasing. Supply is low, and demand is high.
Communication Studies Department
Sarah Wilder Ph.D.: I don't see how there won't be some sort of enduring impact. If you're asking about the individuals or the career field or all of the above, I suspect the impact of the pandemic will be far-reaching. This has been a life-altering experience on many levels. That being said, I believe humanity continues to show its resilience and that as we navigate the changes, sometimes traumas, of this experience, we also learn and grow from it. Individuals now have a better sense of themselves, their needs, and their goals having had to navigate a pandemic. Further, graduates have been forced to become more adaptable in every way and this will likely carry over into various careers. That these individuals know how to shift quickly between modes of communication may be an expectation and a benefit for them that they can. These graduates can interact face-to-face but have also learned how to interact via mediated channels of communication. Being able to do this, and do it competently, changes the expanse of the workforce. So, from personal to professional facets of their lives, I suspect there will be some lasting impact.
Sarah Wilder Ph.D.: That's an interesting question for a degree like Communication Studies that doesn't have a designated career like other fields. Some positions of our recent graduates include anchor, producer, occupational therapist, director of career development, attorney at law, librarian, graduate student, social worker, marketing manager, and director of training, to name a few. So really what certifications or licenses are helpful will be position/career specific. As far as courses, I recommend a breadth of courses that prepare individuals to interact and communicate competently as well as think critically. This could mean taking an interpersonal communication course to better understand the nuances of truly empathic, competent communication with others, particularly in a diverse workforce, to taking a course on argumentation to better understand how to effectively present ideas and critically interact with a larger society's positions on complicated ideologies.
Sarah Wilder Ph.D.: Honestly, it's probably the Communication Studies degree itself. Research indicates as much as 70% plus of long-term success in a career is tied to soft skills and that's where graduates of Communication Studies excel. Individuals with this degree are critical thinkers, adaptable, have strong people skills, and obviously, are excellent communicators. Hard skills are necessary. A person has to be able to do the "job" at hand. That being said, if you and another employee can both perform the basic job duties, but you are also adaptable, able to interact with coworkers, train others, make clients feel comfortable and confident etc., you are going to be the one that is promoted, offered new career opportunities, brought into important decision-making positions, and so on. I just had a conversation with an optometrist and she said almost none of her technicians have science or medical backgrounds. She's ready to train the hard skills of the equipment and exam procedures, but she needs to hire people who are excellent communicators, intelligent, and work well with others. The benefits of being able to communicate effectively are never-ending.
Matthew Lange Ph.D.: During the COVID-19 pandemic international trade was able to continue but tourism, study abroad, and in-person business negotiation all but ceased due to quarantine and lockdown restrictions. When our lives shifted online, certain sectors of the economy were crippled, while others continued remotely with adjustments.
As the pandemic subsides, we will face a different work environment now that many employers and employees have grown accustomed to online working/learning. While most German educators will return to face-to-face instruction, schools and universities now have a greater infrastructure for online education and potentially greater acceptance by learners and teachers.
For those in professional tracts who augment their careers with German language skills (think business students with a second major in German), renewed freedom of movement will allow employees to work in and travel to German-speaking countries once again thus opening up greater employment opportunities. At the same time, new possibilities have emerged due to the shift to remote work.
In addition to the COVID pandemic, graduates of 2021 and beyond will also find a stronger Germany within the European Union due to Brexit. After kicking the proverbial can down the road for years, a hard negotiation deadline forced the British hand at the end of 2020. As a result of the Brexit, the UK has lost its representation in the European Parliament, and we have already seen international corporations moving their operations from London to other cities such as Amsterdam, Dublin (presumably to keep English as the local language), Frankfurt, and Paris. Frankfurt is particularly attractive to the financial sector, because the European Central Bank is there.
Matthew Lange Ph.D.: Specific credentials are often a prerequisite to a particular career path. In the field of education, primary- and secondary-school teachers need licensure in their state of employment to teach in public schools, and those requirements are covered in the undergraduate education program. If one moves to another state, however, the new state's Department of Education (or Public Instruction) has to grant new licensure in its state. In contrast, professors and instructors at the post-secondary level require no teaching credentials. Instead, the college or university stipulates a PhD, MA or even simply BA.
The vast majority of German majors/minors learn the language and culture to apply that knowledge to their primary field of study, most often in business or the sciences, to expand their work, study, and research options. Some opportunities have minimum language proficiency expectations, however. Instead of taking applicants self-evaluations of language proficiency (the term "fluent" means different things to different people), employers can rely on standardized tests such as the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) or Writing Proficiency Test (WPT), which were developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). German language programs aim to produce graduates with proficiency at the intermediate-high or advanced-low on the ACTFL scale, which ranges from novice-low to distinguished, since that is simultaneously the expected minimum set by the respective state Department of Education for teaching licensure. One can also look beyond the US border to various tests at the Goethe Institut, which evaluate the four modalities of listening, reading, speaking, and writing. These tests evaluate according to the Common European Reference Framework (CERF) that ranges from A1 to C2. German universities require B1 on the CERF scale to enroll directly in university.
Most important for a well-rounded education, of course, is a study abroad experience. By being "a stranger in a strange land" one develops negotiation techniques and problem-solving skills when dealing with linguistically- and culturally-ambiguous situations. Studies have shown that study and work abroad increases creativity and flexibility, which are crucial for personal and professional growth.
Matthew Lange Ph.D.: Several articles over the past few years have noted the salary bump for employees with second-language skills. A 2014 report in The Economist entitled "What is a language worth?" indicated, for example, that German proficiency can add a 3.8% bump to your earnings, as calculated by MIT economist Albert Saiz. This increase can come directly from employers who pay a premium for language skills, or the employee can benefit from a larger pool of opportunities that are simply inaccessible to monolingual speakers.
But while many graduates increasingly like to consider return-on-investment (ROI) of a course of study or set of skills, let us not forget that quality of life is important as well, even if it is difficult to quantify. Learning another language and its culture exposes one to another value system that might prefer, for example, more vacation time over increased salary.
Indiana University Northwest
Department of Communication
Dorothy Ige Campbell: The emphases on graphic design and emerging media are in demand more than ever in an increasingly virtual world. New workers who have some Public Relations and persuasive communication backgrounds will have an edge. Those who work or go to school in diverse environments and have cross-cultural training during this time of civil rights demands are also suited for the new era. Jobs in Communication have decreased a bit (see below).
Dorothy Ige Campbell: A bachelor's degree in Communication is considered ideal for non-academic jobs. For undergraduate degrees, a Communication degree paired with a Minor (such as Business) can be ideal, and that has not changed. Those who wish to teach Communication in secondary schools often complete a four-year degree with a major in Education which stresses teaching methods and childhood development, with an emphasis in Communication. Courses in Drama and English also help secondary teacher preparation in Communication.
For graduate education and academic faculty positions in higher education, a Masters in Communication or a related field for part-time teaching for Junior College teaching of Communication courses is usually required. A Ph. D. is usually required for tenure-track, full-time faculty positions in Communication. Courses in statistical research, theory, then specialty Communication courses (such as Health, Religious or Strategic Communication, and so on) are usually required. At all levels, there is an increased emphasis on diversity in the curriculum.
Dorothy Ige Campbell: In general, changes in salaries vary widely by the type of institution (large Research-1 versus a smaller Teaching Campus); rank (part-time versus tenure-track positions, etc). In general, social science fields like Communication salaries tend to fall midway between higher paying science-related fields and lower paying humanities fields. The Chronicle of Higher Education at jobs.chronicle.com as well as the College and University Professional Association (CUPA) at www.cupahr.org and the National Communication Association www.natcom.org are the best sources for specific information on salaries in the various fields. While the newest data is yet being formulated, because of uncertainties about Covid and enrollment drops at some smaller campuses, we expect the demand for new positions to fall slightly, and with less negotiating for higher salaries. Per the NCA website "Communication positions increased by 130 percent from 2009 to 2018-19, before decreasing by 26 percent in 2019-20. . . the weakest year for employment in Communication since 2011." In addition to generalist positions, "Specialists in Strategic Communication/Public Relations/Advertising remained the most sought after." This was followed by "Journalism . . . and Mass Communication/Media Studies/Film Studies." These positions were followed by "Digital/New/Emerging Media, Health, Communication Technology and Intercultural/International/Global Communication."
Taylor Collins Ph.D.: The pandemic has largely accelerated and amplified many labor market trends that were already
underway. We're seeing markets consolidating, more remote work settings, and more automated
processes. Moving forward, there are likely to be fewer small business job openings while corporate
positions should significantly grow. Graduates should also expect that they will no longer be competing
solely with other local graduates for entry-level jobs. Labor market competition is going to continue to
become more national, or even international.
The pandemic also seems to have accelerated the rate of AI investment, with research by Stanford's
2021 AI Index Report finding that total global investment in artificial intelligence increased by 40% in
2020. This doesn't necessarily mean that jobs for business economics students will disappear however,
as strong job growth over the next decade is projected in many fields hiring our graduates. But it does
mean that much of the work may look different. Employers will be looking for more than just plug and
run data junkies. Workers who can support the power of automation are likely to find stable job
prospects, and that requires competence in creative problem solving, the capacity to critically analyze
and interpret data outputs, and a social skillset that will facilitate large scale collaboration and
Taylor Collins Ph.D.: One thing I've heard from several managers recently is a frustration with the lengths they've had to take
to maintain engagement from their employees in this new work-from-home reality. Many workers who
were reliably plugging away when in the office quickly lost their drive without a direct supervisor looking
over their shoulder, and this change has been one of the biggest challenges of efficient remote work.
Moving forward, I expect firms to correct for this frustration by placing a premium on self-starters.
Individuals who can be reliably counted on to complete their tasks, even when they are not kept under
the direct watchful eye of a manager, will be particularly valued. To meet this demand, students need to
use their college experience as an opportunity to build and craft a sense of self-motivation.
Dr. Derek Johnson Ph.D.: Departments like ours are aware of the added challenges created by the pandemic and we've been taking steps to help our students find opportunities while also helping employers to overcome the challenges of continuing to provide needed experience. Given the uncertainty around in-person work, we've been trying to generate online internships that allow students to connect with employers in safer ways. At the same time as we address the current crisis, we are also working to address long-standing barriers to access that have limited work opportunities based on social status, geography, the ability to support one's self, and more. Virtual internships can help with that, but there's more work to do to make sure everyone has equal opportunity to succeed and to manage the crises we face.