April 13, 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.
Grambling State University
Winona State University
Murray State University
California State University, Sacramento
Indiana University South Bend
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Fairleigh Dickinson University
Department of Sociology and Criminal JusticeWebsite
Stephanie Cappadona Ph.D.: The field of criminal justice has numerous job opportunities-especially those beyond what is generally considered in the field-law enforcement, courts, and corrections. Some of these are positions in social work, victim advocacy in courts and women's shelters, case specialists with non-profits for at-risk youth, private investigators, research analysts, postal inspectors, private and court investigators, and homeland security positions. Due to social changes and increasing pressure for social justice reforms in all areas of the criminal justice system, those who have been in the field for some time may be inclined to retire, rather than participate in new training (i.e. cultural sensitivity or diversity, equity, and inclusion).
The Covid-19 Pandemic has had numerous effects on the criminal justice system. Law enforcement agencies have attempted to limit in-person contact with members of the public during traffic stops and arrests. When possible, police decline to arrest, except in the case of violent felonies, opting to issue a summons for traffic stops and for juveniles to appear before a judge, instead of arresting them. It has yet to be seen if this is a policy that can be utilized on a more permanent basis.
Courts have become endlessly backlogged with cases due to the closure of the courts at the height of the Pandemic. Many of the lesser offenses have been able to be held in "Zoom Court". For nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, attending a court hearing from home has made compliance easier. Defendants often cannot take time off of work, or are burdened with finding child care to attend a court date. If court appearances could continue in this manner after the Pandemic, it could drastically reduce the courts' congested dockets moving forward. Another area that has been impacted by the Pandemic is the use of cash bail for pretrial release. Various courts have stopped requiring cash bail for individuals who are arrested for nonviolent felonies. This has helped to reduce the number of people in jail awaiting trial. Civil liberty groups such as the ACLU have advocated for pretrial release without cash bail for less serious crimes. It is well known in the criminal justice system that the bail process disproportionately affects those without the resources to post bail before their trials.
Concerning corrections, there have been vast impacts due to the Pandemic. Most notably has been the reduction of the prison inmate population. Advocacy groups have urged state parole boards to release nonviolent offenders who are nearing the end of their sentence and to offer compassionate release to elderly offenders or those with a terminal illness.
My view is that the cultural shift and rise in social justice and equity movements, combined with the effects of the Pandemic will likely result in a wave of retirements in the CJ system, most specifically in the area of law enforcement. Currently, police departments report difficulties with recruitment and retainment, and that trend will likely continue after the Pandemic. Another area that may be impacted is community supervision and advocacy. If empirical studies can determine that nonviolent offenders can be just as effectively supervised in the community without incarceration, jobs for probation officers and other types of community supervision would increase. Another area of growth is the caseworker/social worker and victim advocacy. If the economy continues to improve, money will be available to help victims and survivors of crime, such as intimate partner violence. Domestic violence drastically increased during the Pandemic, and this was an underserviced area before the shutdown, so it is likely to increase in the near future.
Stephanie Cappadona Ph.D.: In criminal justice there is such a large range of positions, it is difficult to cover skills for each one. However, some positions do require similar skill sets. Strong analytical, writing, listening, and communication skills are necessary for any area of criminal justice. Strong ethical judgment, critical thinking skills, and the ability to make quick decisions under stress are also useful in many areas of criminal justice. A majority of employers in the field are now requiring a diversity statement with a job application. The trend now is toward hiring employees in the CJ field who are proficient at communicating with diverse groups of people.
Stephanie Cappadona Ph.D.: Changes in the CJ field have mostly been in the form of more professional education and training. With this pivot to a more professional police and correctional force, unions have become stronger and therefore the pay has also increased. In the field of forensic analysis, there has also been a rise in professionalism due to police departments seeking accreditation. Highly specialized positions such as forensics have a vast salary range depending on the department and the education and skills of the applicant. Unfortunately, there has not been this same increase for salaries in the social services-such as social workers and community witness/victim advocates in court. When the economy is not doing well, state social services are often the first cuts made, and that means community and court advocates. With the rising demand for social justice, diversity, and equity in the criminal justice system, one would expect that more social service and advocacy positions will become available. However, those are not unionized positions, but mostly state positions and the pay would not be expected to rise as much as law enforcement.
Grambling State University
Criminal Justice Department
Tazinski Lee Ph.D.: The pandemic has posed many challenges for the graduates of 2021, just as it did for those of 2020. For graduates, this impact has been, or will be felt in terms of the loss of friends and relatives to the virus; the cancelled college extra-curricular activities; and the continuous adjustments to our new virtual society. Fortunately for the criminal justice graduate, the field appears to be running steadily. Our Office of Career Services and departmental faculty, along with criminal justice agencies, continue to make students aware of new opportunities for virtual/in-person internships and employment opportunities.
Our majors are comprised of traditional and nontraditional students. The traditional graduate was "born" familiar with technology (e.g., smartphones, computers, Zoom, and Webex); therefore, he/she is better prepared to navigate through this pandemic. However, the nontraditional graduate will have to make various adjustments in familiarizing himself/herself with new methods of operation because direct contact with agencies may be missing for quite some time.
Tazinski Lee Ph.D.: To be able to compete in the job market, criminal justice graduates will continue to need effective communication and writing skills. These skills are essential for criminal investigations and various other crime scene reporting. Graduates should also exhibit keen cognitive and analytical abilities. These skills are crucial to any career in the criminal justice system.
Tazinski Lee Ph.D.: The primary attribute which agencies most often inform that stands out on a student's resume is whether they have participated in an internship program. This component provides employees with a clear picture of the student's ability to effectively perform in a work environment. Moreover, if a student has held leadership positions in a campus organization, the potential employer is able to determine that the student possesses leadership skills. A student's membership in an organization, can also signal to a prospective employer that the student has the ability to work cooperatively with others.
Winona State University
Criminal Justice DepartmentWebsite
James Parlow: I would hope not. We have a resilient group of candidates here at WSU. However, with that in mind, I would say the pandemic is having an impact on individuals in a lot of ways. Besides the impact on families with some getting sick, having classes delivered with spacing, facemasks, sanitization, etc., creates a difficult teaching and interaction environment for future officers to practice and learn techniques and skills. Some of the practical aspects that I use in my courses cannot be adapted to meet Covid-safety requirements (ex: a crime scene practical). Policework is about human interaction, working with individuals, reading faces and body language, your own body language and language, all of which is difficult in these times. If it has a lasting impact will depend on the individual's desire for additional learning and an agencies approach to mentoring new officers.
James Parlow: In these times I advise students to obtain training in these areas: dealing with mental health related issues, use of force decisions and law, bias and stereotype awareness, interview techniques, and other social interaction/awareness-based courses.
James Parlow: Maturity, education, and training. Ethicality in the work they do and in off-duty activities. Engaging in their communities and working within the department to improve the department and its relationship with the community.
Murray State University
Department of Community Leadership and Human ServicesWebsite
Dr. Paul Lucko: The pandemic has exposed the modern world's vulnerability to infectious diseases and will increase demand for physical and mental healthcare professionals. Employment opportunities for public health educators, contact tracers, and other allied health science workers will grow in significance. Angst, stress, confusion, disruptions and uncertainty from an invisible predator have, not surprisingly, highlighted the need for more trained social workers, counselors, and other human service professionals. While the pandemic has exponentially increased virtually conducted meetings, interpersonal skills remain extremely important. Those entering the job market will be valued for their technology expertise as well as their social skills. Not only must professionals navigate rapidly changing technologies, they must also be able to communicate effectively and smoothly via those technologies. During the post-pandemic era employers will continue to appreciate individuals who are able to interact harmoniously with others.
Dr. Paul Lucko: Employers continue to value oral and written communication abilities. Most of today's college graduates display technological proficiency. Arguably, a smaller number manifest critical social skills that reflect competencies in the realm of interpersonal relations and teamwork. An employee who has cultivated "people smarts" is invaluable, especially in helping professions such as education, social work, counseling, and criminal justice, where such abilities are critical.
One of the best predictors of a prospective employee's future success is previous experience. Past performance is more important than college grades in many fields. Since most job market entrants lack significant employment experience, it is important that they at least display the ability to learn quickly. One of the best ways to demonstrate adaptability and comfort with the "real world" is to serve as a student intern. Internships are particularly important during the current pandemic era where such opportunities are fewer than before. If unable to serve an internship, a resume that contains evidence of volunteer endeavors, and/or part-time jobs will make potential recruits more attractive to employers who desire candidates able to cope with trying situations resulting from human conflict.
Practical experience, including military training, where individuals have displayed teamwork and cooperation are also very important. A successful work record serves as an attractive applicant attribute. For first responders, physical fitness, a healthy lifestyle, and a history of positive social interactions are vital qualities. Human service professionals will need both technical and interpersonal skills.
Dr. Paul Lucko: While many, if not most, college graduates expect to enter careers where they will earn a decent living, they do not necessarily anticipate grandiose salaries. Those who pursue careers in the helping professions desire to make a difference in their communities through social engagement. Evidence of skills that display an ability to interact positively during stressful occasions are vitally important in this regard.
Human services such as criminal justice and social work provide many opportunities to utilize interpersonal skills as well as obtain immediate employment upon graduation. Criminal justice reforms will not lessen the need for more police officers. One large municipality plans to spend over six million dollars this year to recruit new officers. It is significant that they are seeking candidates with degrees in criminal justice, social work, psychology, and counseling and those who have volunteer experience in community activities. Police recruits with college degrees should be even more important to agencies today since research suggests that degreed officers receive fewer public complaints related to unprofessional behavior.
Residential and community corrections agencies also afford opportunities for recent college graduates trained in human services fields. Social work and education majors from accredited programs will continue to be in demand for entry positions. Students in these fields complete extensive practicums that serve as excellent preparation for entry into the professional world.
Department of Criminology & Criminal JusticeWebsite
Dr. Maria Garase Ph.D.: It is hard to predict all of the ways that the coronavirus will have an impact on graduates; however, it is a good bet that graduates will need to be flexible, adaptable, and tech savvy in their job searches and in their new positions. Although many jobs search processes begin online, there is usually a face to face interview component. Many job interviews are now done virtually through web conferencing. Graduates will need to prepare for a virtual interview process, which may not give a complete picture of the candidate and/or of the agency that they would otherwise get from an in-person interview.
Travel restrictions may impact graduates' opportunities to cast a wider net for certain positions and relocation options. Additionally, some academy classes as well as civil service exams have been postponed or adapted due to the coronavirus, and, thus, could delay entry into the workforce. Because many positions in the criminal justice system require direct contact with people, graduates entering the workforce will have to learn new ways of interfacing with individuals. Court hearings, probation and parole contacts, victim services appointments are being done virtually or in remote settings.
Graduates will need to learn new mitigation protocols, software programs, and effective communication strategies to stay connected to their clients, consumers, and the public. Training protocols are likely to be different for new hires. For example, given the mask mandates in some states, security concerns may arise in some agencies as it becomes more difficult to identify individuals and also more difficult to read nonverbals and behavioral cues. Additionally, graduates may take their health status into consideration before applying to higher risk facilities with congregate settings (e.g., prisons, jails, detention facilities).
Dr. Maria Garase Ph.D.: For current students who are interested in local or municipal policing, some universities partner with police academies where students can complete the academy as part of their program of study. For example, in Pennsylvania, there are some programs where students can graduate with an associate or bachelor's degree in criminal justice and also with their Act 120 certification as a sworn police officer. Depending on the specific field of criminal justice that a student plans to go into they should chose a concentration (e.g., intelligence studies, crime mapping, criminology, cybersecurity, victimology) or a minor (e.g., sociology, psychology, social work, data analytics) that offers more in-depth courses that will expand their knowledge and skills in a given area. Students can also pursue certificates in crime analysis, conflict resolution, and crisis intervention strategies that can expand their job prospects. Internships are also highly recommended for students. Supervised internships that have agreed upon learning outcomes are an excellent way for students to gain valuable skills needed in the profession and also to network with supervisors and colleagues.
Dr. Maria Garase Ph.D.: Students can increase their earning potential by doing very well in their criminal justice major and/or the academic program of study. For example, students who earn a 3.5 or above grade point average and belong to an honor or professional society (e.g., Alpha Phi Sigma) which is a member of the Association of College Honor Societies meet at least one of the criteria for starting at a GS 7 instead of a GS 5 for federal government positions. Students who complete a master's degree may qualify for GS 9 for federal government positions. Criminal Justice students who have specialized knowledge in certain areas or earned minicredentials may also increase their earning potential. This can include complementing their major with minors or certificates in Homeland Security,Cybersecurity, Cyber Risk Management, and/or Data Analytics.
Department of Criminal JusticeWebsite
Dr. Emily Hayden: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all individuals, including students. Students are now having to complete and graduate from schools that have switched to a hybrid or entirely online format. The COVID impact will ultimately be dependent on each student. Some will come through this experience with increased study skills and problem-solving skills. Some will struggle with lasting social and mental health challenges. Graduating school and entering the work force is intimidating as it is without adding a global pandemic to the mix. That being said, they are learning several things when it comes to technology and communication. Students are now learning how to communicate effectively over technology. This builds clarity of communication skills for them. These skills are ones that students will be able to use when entering the work force.
Dr. Emily Hayden: The ability to write in a coherent manner. A simple well-formulated email can leave an impression on a coworker or supervisor. Understanding Word, Excel, and other business programs is necessary. Understanding the difference between texting with a friend verses a coworker is essential. I believe right now, during the global pandemic, computer and technology skills will be very valuable. A lot of employers are expecting individuals to meet through Zoom and Microsoft teams calls. Technology allows people to work from home and still accomplish their job tasks. With new technology skills also brings new types of communication skills. Being able to communicate effectively while using online tools will be very valuable to employers.
Dr. Emily Hayden: Any position out of college can be a learning experience and builds on your resume. One may accept a position as a waitress and learn patience, communication skills and problem-solving skills. A job is what you make of it. Starter jobs are just that, starter jobs. They are meant to build experience and a work record. A new police officer will start at a lower pay as they are trained and gain experience. While a job in corrections can teach individuals to communicate and develop problem-solving skills.
California State University, Sacramento
Division of Criminal Justice
Ernest Uwazie: Yes, very likely.
Ernest Uwazie: Depending on the area of the criminal justice system, there will be probably some type of a hybrid of work performance: face to face and virtual. The COVID-19 will probably not change the nature or type of work, but how it's performed, and perhaps with more crimes or social problems in certain vulnerable groups.
Ernest Uwazie: Information technological skills as well as problem solving and social/racial justice knowledge.
Department of Criminal JusticeWebsite
Dr. Kelli Callahan Ph.D.: This will be an interesting trend to observe in various ways. For example, current data suggests that overall enrollment at the collegiate level dropped in 2020 as compared to previous years yet students reported an increase in mental health issues such as anxiety and depression specifically in reference to the uncertainty of the pandemic. It is further worth noting that students from lower socioeconomic groups struggle the most in terms of having the equipment necessary to successfully participate in a virtual collegiate environment.
Dr. Kelli Callahan Ph.D.: Because the criminal justice system is so dependent upon documentation, one of the critical skills necessary for recent criminal justice graduates pertains to effective communication skills particularly in written form. In addition, efficiency across reading and research skills will be incredibly beneficial and sought after for new graduates. Also, as technology advances, so too does the need for skilled applicants in terms of strong digital skills in order to work with report writing software, crime analysis data, forensic databases, and so on.
Dr. Kelli Callahan Ph.D.: Because the criminal justice system is so varied in terms of the number of unique employment opportunities available, it is important for a candidate to tailor their resume specifically to the requirements as described in the job description. A well-crafted resume that successfully addresses the job requirement and skills necessary will most certainly stand out from a preliminary screening perspective. In addition, for those resumes that demonstrate an adequate academic background yet lacking in practical employment experience, any documentation of volunteer work, internship opportunities, will likewise stand out on a resume. Lastly, because so many new graduates are attempting to get their foot in the door, they need to be able to document any additional activities that would distinguish their resume from others. For example, professional organization membership, even at the student or entry level, attendance at criminal justice related conferences or local trainings, and successful documentation of demonstrating their willingness to further their experience in the field.
Indiana University South Bend
Department of Criminal JusticeWebsite
Dr. Stacie Merken Ph.D.: Although this is something we have not really endured at this level, and it is quite hard to determine the future, I do believe in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will certainly be an impact on various careers. Right now, students are adapting to virtual learning which in itself is quite a challenge and different from what they are used to doing in a school setting. As a professor, I do my best to instill in my students that this change in society will continue as they move forward into their various fields. For instance, I have students who are currently applying, as well as have been accepted to, different police academies. They are learning the new protocol with PPE. I also have students who want to pursue graduate degrees and are preparing for virtual learning at a higher level of education. Other students are working toward probation careers or working with juveniles, and they are quickly learning about the importance of PPE in their occupations. Overall, I think students are trying to adapt to the unprecedented times by understanding that their future careers may be different from their original ideas of the profession.
Dr. Stacie Merken Ph.D.: I believe there are several skills young graduates need when they enter the workforce. Professional writing skills are extremely important, as there will always be some type of writing in any occupation. For example, if a student becomes a lawyer, they need to be able to write a proper brief. If a student becomes a police officer, they need to be able to write efficient reports on any situation. Another important skill is proper social interaction, both listening and understanding. For example, if a student becomes a victim's advocate, they would need to learn how to listen, support, and understand what a victim is experiencing in order to assist them. Computer skills are always important. I am shocked when a student does not understand technology. I think we are quick to judge that students in this generation are technologically savvy, however, this is not always the case. Comprehension of basic computer skills and programs, such as Excel, are important and used in many careers. Teamwork and cooperation are extremely needed during these times. Students need to learn to work with others effectively. I know many students who have not always "been a fan" of group work, but I think group work teaches students respect, cooperation, and the need to work together. In addition, compassion for others is an important skill. During these very difficult times, we are seeing so much tragedy, loss, unemployment, anxiety, depression, and more. Unfortunately, I believe we will continue to witness this kind of fallout for some time. When students learn that they are not in this alone, that others are experiencing hardship, too, this will build compassion, which is necessary for future occupations.
Dr. Stacie Merken Ph.D.: A variety of experience can stand out on a resume. Internships are a great way to show interest in the field, help students get their "feet wet," and even help students decide if this particular career is what they really want to do in the future. Active membership and/or taking a position in a club or organization shows commitment, teamwork, and a desire to engage with others that have similar interests. Also, this organization could be student government or some other organization or activity, and not just one within the student's field of study. If students are interested in attending graduate school, working with a faculty member on research and a possible publication would help to show passion toward a particular area, as well as help with graduate applications. Undergraduate grants are a great way to earn money, or, more importantly, learn from a faculty member. Work experience (e.g. work-study or working off campus) shows time management and work ethic. Any awards or scholarships also help to distinguish the student from others. Dependent on the discipline, presenting at a regional or national conference also helps students stand out.
Social Science and Social Work Department
Michael Barrett: I assume you mean the Criminal Justice workforce. The ability to think critically and make rapid decisions is vitally important when discretion is a key component of a position.
Being aware of options and the parameters, bringing them to a final appropriate choice in a given situation. An appropriate choice is governed by administrative, legal, political constraints. Discretion is oppositional to the administrative control of the individual; essentially, Criminal Justice employees, for the most part, are on their own when making important decisions in the field.
One must also understand the various cultures they will interact with and be able to communicate effectively with the diverse population they are likely to serve. So much of the job is mental. Obviously, familiarity with various techniques will be required depending on the position.
Michael Barrett: There are jobs everywhere in this field. Presently constraints related to tax revenue (most jobs are in the public sector) uncertainty based on Covid's impact on employment has caused some agencies to pause their hiring until this is clarified. Prior to COVID, agencies were all hiring, some on a rolling basis. There are a large number of retirements coming, as late baby boomers and some GenXer's reach retirement age. The south and southwest, along with smaller to midsize communities across the country, offer employment, as people migrate from the large urban areas in the west and northeast. Additionally, there are positions in non-profits and social service agencies that serve criminal justice clients, as well as some private-sector employers, that desire our graduates as well (large medical facilities and amusement centers, for example).
Michael Barrett: More agencies are employing technology, and there has been a marked increase in technology based crime, so agencies need to have staff properly credentialed in this area. Additionally, science-based lab analysis that uses sophisticated equipment to identify offenders will become increasingly important in the future. We are also seeing large increases in the use of video and audio equipment to capture offenders in the act, and social media applications used to identify them. Overall technological competency will become increasingly necessary, and those that can, should consider looking at this as a skill that will make them more marketable.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Department of Criminal Justice & CriminologyWebsite
Steven Brandl Ph.D.: As a result of the economic impact of COVID-19, there will likely be major funding issues for local, state, and government agencies. This could affect employment possibilities in law enforcement related careers as well as criminal justice careers more generally. The good news, I guess, is that we will always need police.
Steven Brandl Ph.D.: Geographically speaking, I don't think any particular area will be better off than any other. However, large cities have experienced more difficulties in the recruitment and selection of police officers in recent years. This may continue in the future due to the current "anti-police" sentiment that exists in many cities and the increased rate at which current police officers are quitting or retiring in these departments.
Steven Brandl Ph.D.: Technology will have a huge impact if there are funds to purchase and incorporate the technology into law enforcement agency operations. Everything from drones, to provide for "eyes in the sky," to improved less-likely-to-be-lethal weaponry, to surveillance and facial recognition cameras, technology will dramatically affect law enforcement operations in the future. Again, given funding issues, it is less clear how much things will change in the next five years.
Fairleigh Dickinson University
Department Criminology and Criminal Justice
Amy Shlosberg Ph.D.: Yes, I believe there will be an enduring impact on all those who have lived through the pandemic. For college graduates, in particular, there are some unique challenges. We had a few students in the spring who graduated and had secured a job or received an offer, but it was then withdrawn or deferred, likely due to the economic disruption. There are also fewer recruitment events, such as job fairs and information sessions. Furthermore, many employers have drastically changed their hiring process from in-person to virtual. This shift can make the process difficult for prospective employees. Lastly, I want to note that the impact varies depending on the industry.
For example, certain industries are thriving, such as healthcare, whereas others, such as hospitality, are struggling to stay afloat. Given the essential nature of many Criminal Justice and Criminology jobs, this market hasn't been particularly effected the way others have. Still, some students are findings themselves working in a field that isn't closely related to their specialty/interest; many are transferring their skills into other roles so they can build up their work experience and hopefully secure their desired job once the pandemic ends and the economy improves.
Amy Shlosberg Ph.D.: I think it depends on what an individual is interested in doing. The jobs secured by our graduates range from police officers to victim advocates to paralegals to parole officers (and the list goes on). Employment can be in a variety of private and government sectors. Therefore, any of the country's largest cities would likely offer a high concentration of jobs in this area. It often seems large numbers of criminal justice jobs are available in states like California, Texas, and New York because of the dense metropolitan areas in each of these states. These areas of the country also tend to provide the highest wages associated with criminal justice employment.
Amy Shlosberg Ph.D.: Technology is interesting because it impacts the field in two distinct ways: offenders get more sophisticated in their criminal ways, while law enforcement increasingly uses technology to deter and apprehend those who break the law. Law enforcement (broadly speaking) relies heavily on big data for not only storage but to predict and draw conclusions. You also hear a lot about the increasing use of biometrics, which includes fingerprints, palm prints, and facial recognition, used as a method to match up individuals with their criminal history information. The use of technology to detect and solve criminal activity happening in real-time (i.e., surveillance cameras, GPS, and drones) will have a great impact on law enforcement. Lastly, we see important advancements in DNA, and other forensic sciences, which will both help law enforcement solves crimes and ensure that the system got it right.