January 30, 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.
The University of Tennessee
Claremont McKenna College
Montclair State University
Texas A&M International University
Central Michigan University
University of California - Davis
Michigan Technological University
University of Minnesota, Morris campus
Sonoma State University
Russell Zaretzki Ph.D.: I'm not exactly sure how COVID is affecting the statistics/data science job market. I do think that it is having an effect. At the same time, the market is still fairly hot so that many recent graduates were still able to find jobs.
Russell Zaretzki Ph.D.: Required skills may depend on the industry. Knowledge of SQL is of universal value as well as basic linux skills. Students interested in careers in life sciences and pharmaceuticals need solid training in statistical methods and R is quite valuable. Python and good coding skills are very important in the larger data science community. Knowledge of machine learning algorithms is also very important and tools like Scikit Learn, Tensor Flow, and Keras are Python packages that allow someone to easily build macine learning models. Platforms like Spark and Cloud platforms are also very useful and sought after skills.
Russell Zaretzki Ph.D.: Coming out of an undergrad program, a position such as a business analyst, entry level data engineer, data scientist, or statistician might be a good role. Students with more advanced degrees might be qualified for more specialized roles like deep learning applications or natural language processing.
Lenny Fukshansky Ph.D.: I think one of the effects of the pandemic on the job market will be in making work from home much more popular and widespread. This may result in some physical movement of the companies that become less reliant on a particular geographical area, as well as of the employees, who no longer need to reside next to their place of employment. I think we may already be partially observing the beginnings of this dynamic in California. Another likely effect in the professional markets may be a shift in favor of jobs that can easily be done remotely.
Lenny Fukshansky Ph.D.: I believe that the industry employers are constantly looking for people with a combination of strong analytic background (including mathematical modeling, statistics, and programming knowledge), good communication skills and leadership potential. We are obviously observing a rapid surge of data science, but it is important to keep in mind that just the familiarity with current data handling techniques is not sufficient for a successful career going forward. This knowledge has to rest on the understanding of fundamental mathematical and computer science apparatus from which data science has emerged. As such, I would recommend a major in mathematics, complemented by some data science courses or a minor.
Lenny Fukshansky Ph.D.: I think that jobs in the analytics and hi-tech sectors are always great. These include analytic positions in the financial, insurance, and consulting industries, as well as analytics and software engineering jobs in the hi-tech industry. These industries offer a wide range of analytic career opportunities, strong compensation and career development, and a wide range of interesting and intellectually challenging projects.
Dr. David Axelrod Ph.D.: There are some early indications that applications to medical school are up (according to the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges). It is likely that increased funding for vaccinations and covid-19 related health care will increase demand for a wide range of workers in that field. Beyond this, as the population ages there will also be greater demand for elder care and related medical issues. We can expect to see an increase in the demand for mental health care as well, as people deal with stresses of being home bound, financial difficulties, and political crisis this last year.
With the expansion of AI there may be a bifurcation in some fields (like finance) where those with top coding skills will be very highly paid, but many other positions will be eliminated. Companies will be more comfortable with employees working from home (if their position enables them), the trade off being that those companies will seek ways to make the work less dependent on vulnerable humans.
In the mid-term we can expect to see more in the way of autonomous vehicles, such as delivery and taxi, both for reduced costs as well as decreased inflection risks, leading to a decrease in demand for transportation professionals.
Dr. David Axelrod Ph.D.: Digital skill sets (programming, design, analysis) will be essential. They are important to show you can leverage your innate skills with the available tools.
Communication skills will also be critical. The ability to effectively communicate information and ideas makes you more valuable.
Dependable and constructive work ethic will be important to indicate through your resume. You may be a genius, but if it comes across that you are unreliable, that you do not make the extra effort or will be difficult to work with, it is a signal to a prospective employer you will be a net negative for their business.
Dr. David Axelrod Ph.D.: Given the rapid change in how and where people are working, this has become more difficult to answer. With the change in political administration, and economic priorities, cities and states that lean more green may see improved opportunities. However, those areas that are already being hit hard with the effects of climate change (both natural and political) are more likely to face disruptions which could cause quick job loss or less safe work conditions.
Another factor is the lifestyle you want to live. For example, Vermont has good potential if you do not need to live close to a major city. Wherever you do look for work, make sure it has sufficient and updated infrastructure to support the industry you are working in (which includes the condition of roads, bridges and mass transportation, internet connectivity, and other utilities like electricity and water).
Jamie Hallas Ph.D.: Generally speaking, I know that the pandemic is impacting the economy unevenly so the trend depends on the sector in question. Occupations in service, hospitality, entertainment, or performance arts that require large crowds and/or confined in-person interactions will remain in low demand until after the pandemic. However, other industries may see growth. For example, consumer spending on goods is relatively high now, so occupations involved in the industries providing those goods may see growth now.
For higher education, the job market is in a tough spot right now. Finances were tight for many post-secondary institutions prior to the pandemic and so, once the pandemic started, the added uncertainty about the future prompted many institutions to enact hiring freezes. My guess is that faculty positions will be even more scarce and competitive until the pandemic is brought under control. Even after the pandemic, I am skeptical that the job market conditions will improve much without additional change or support such as an increase in public funding.
Jamie Hallas Ph.D.: I think this depends on what they initially intended to do and how invested they were in that goal. I think if they obtained their degree with a specific goal in mind and are still passionate about that goal, they should try to build skills that will help them to stand apart in their field and that will help them adapt to any changes in their field that may happen.
For example, I think even after the pandemic, remote work will be an integral part of life now and so if tech fluency was not a major part of my degree program, I might work to familiarize myself with as much technology related to remote work as possible. One way to do this is to see how it can be applied in personal life. Maybe I want to plan a gather of friends remotely. What new software or applications could I use to make the experience more fun and engaging beyond just a typical video call? How smoothly can I have everything run? Learning to not only implement innovative tech but to do so in a seamless manner is a great skill to have. Another idea could be to build a professional website. This would be a valuable self-marketing tool and the website design skills obtained from this would be invaluable.
I also believe this could be a good time to explore something new careerwise. If a job in your field isn't available, consider whether there is a different field you could try out with your current background. Even if it isn't as well paying or prestigious as your desired occupation, you may pick up some new skills or references and this will help to keep continuity of employment which is helpful in maintaining a healthy career trajectory.
Lastly, one might go back for further education to obtain some new certification or skills. There are also websites that offer free/low cost courses that you could try out if you have a specific knowledge set you would like to obtain.
Jamie Hallas Ph.D.: Spend time trying to identify what is important to you and then work in ways that bring you closer to those things. Salary is important but it is not the be-all and end-all. For example, also consider what type of location you would like to live in and what type of company environment you would enjoy working in. Also, give yourself some grace to make mistakes. We are in a difficult time and so maintaining the same quality of energy you had prepandemic may not be realistic. Above all, always strive to do work you are passionate about. If something doesn't feel right about your current career path, don't be afraid to try some new things. Even if this causes some delays in progress, if you are happier in the end, that is what counts.
Department of Mathematics
Mimi Rasky: Cybersecurity is THE hot topic these days, also - learn Python.
Mimi Rasky: Work on maintaining and updating coding skills. recommended: go to leetcode.com and practice, practice, practice. If those are too hard, then AUDIT a programming course you've already taken and rework all of the assignments. In addition, take an online coding class- like MIT's 6.001x at www.edx.org. (intro to programming, as well as data structures, or Harvard's CS50). These are free. Work on learning how to be a mensch (Yiddish for a wonderfully nice person). Jerks don't get jobs!!!! Read the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. Yes, this book has been around for 80 years, and yet, human nature does not change! The info in there SHOULD be taught on every college campus and may possibly will save your life and your career. For example, avoid the "three C's." That is don't criticize, condemn or complain. There's more in this amazing book and I can't recommend it enough.
Mimi Rasky: Advice would be to take your job seriously, no kidding! If possible, ask if you can get someone to serve as your mentor, preferably someone who's been with the company awhile, knows the ropes, and is willing to give you lots of guidance and direction. This will be your saving grace! Try and make friends with colleagues, even if they annoy you. Try and be a team player, even if it goes against your personality type. Act and be professional; this includes sending professional communication. Reach out to your boss and ask him or her what they need and/or how you can help out the company. Be on time - this shows people that they can count on you. Show up to work - try and avoid taking sick leave often. Again, this show other people that they can count on you. If you don't know the answer, admit it. This shows genuine leadership and integrity. Show thankfulness , appreciation and gratitude at every opportunity and to everyone you meet in the company - even the secretaries. Be respectful of the people in charge at the company. They will be the ones you need as a good reference should you try to leave and get another job somewhere else, OR if there are layoffs, you will be less likely to be one of the unfortunate people who get their pink slip. Sorry to be redundant, but again - - - Read the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. Yes, this book has been around for 80 years, and yet, human nature does not change! The info in there SHOULD be taught on every college campus and may possibly will save your life and your career.
Texas A&M International University
Department of Mathematics and Physics
Dr. Rohitha Goonatilake: Demand for jobs in the STEM and medical fields has increased a great amount in the recent past. This is primarily because the versatility and need the pandemic has caused for the jobs. Increase for frontline jobs and essential workers has created this surge.
Dr. Rohitha Goonatilake: Work-related experience, GPA, and certifications in the field, in particular, the high academic achievement.
Dr. Rohitha Goonatilake: In our opinion, some places that might provide a higher possibility of finding a job are Texas, Colorado, and Washington.
Carl Lee: Statistics have been ranked the highest job growth rate among all STEM fields and the 6th highest job growth rate among all employment sectors for several years by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The growth rate is estimated to be 35% between 2019 to 2029. This estimate was made prior to the COVID pandemics. The impact of pandemic to Statistics job market is mostly on the change of working style from office to remote. Statisticians are well trained in using modern advanced technology. Shifting from office to remote is pretty straightforward. In fact, there seems to have more jobs opening since the pandemic. Our students have experienced more job interviews for both undergraduate and graduate students since 2020 summer.
Statisticians analyze data. These days, anywhere anything people touch, data are generated. There are indeed more data generated than ever before due to the new and more complicated data resulted from the effects of COVID in every aspect of the society. Business an industry are in a desperate need to learn from the data in attempt to search for insights and solutions. A highly related area to Statistics is data science. More and more complex data have been generated exponentially in volume, variety (different types of data), velocity (speed of generating data), veracity (validity of the data) and variability ( the meaning of data changes). Thus, managing and analyzing so-called 'big data' to gain valuable insights is critical for business and industry to stay competitive. The demands for individuals who have the knowledge and skills to manage/analyze has been growing significantly. Job market for data Scientists are expected to have high growth rate. Another highly related profession that use great deal of data insights is artificial intelligence (AI). AI technology has been applied in many aspects of society. Powerful AI highly relies on the analysis of data using efficient computing algorithms and machine learning methodology.
Carl Lee: If data is "the new oil," or the "new nuclear power" for the modern data-driven society, then, the goal of university programs will be to train students with knowledge and skills to "refine, transform" the raw resources into useful 'products.' Individuals who have the knowledge and skills to manage and analyze data to turn the data into powerful products will be highly demanded.
Opportunities are very broad. There are many aspects of managing and analyzing data, deploying insights, making data-driven decisions in diverse employment sectors. In the process of 'refining the new oil' into different 'products,' different sets of knowledge and skills are needed.
It is not realistic that a program is designed to equip with all of required knowledge and skills for students. In general, strong background in statistics, predictive modeling, machine learning and computer programming in R and Python as well as SQL and database management is essential. To build a unique niche to be stand out, students should select a minor in an area of application, work on some real-world projects, and, if possible, have an internship experience prior to graduation.
Central Michigan University is developing a unique university-wide data science program. This program consists of a Data Science major plus nine analytics minors in nine different departments cross four colleges. A student majoring in data science is also required to choose an area of application. In the meantime, students cross the university in different areas of studies have opportunities to take an analytics minor to build a niche for their respective majors.
Carl Lee: Statistics and data science have high demand in almost every employment sector. The growth rates are about 35% from 2019 to 2029. Besides the directly related job markets, many graduates may also find jobs in other closely related job categories such as financial/marketing analysts, computer analysts, etc. Most companies offer jobs directly related to statistics and data science may be in the metropolitan area of large cities across USA. However, COVID has changed the working style. Many companies are now, and in the future, will continue to allow employees working virtually.
Matteo Farne Ph.D.: In general, I think that the job market will stay very tough for the entire 2021. The risk that opportunities might be concentrated only to super-qualified people is very high. At the same time, universities will be overwhelmed by teaching needs, and the disintegration of the space concept may offer remote working chances, even if probably temporary and more fragmented. What is more, trust among people must be completely rebuilt in this moment.
Matteo Farne Ph.D.: For what concerns the statistical field, I would say:
focus on a specific research topic where you make and publish something highly recognizable
be proficient in IT methods for data science and master their integration
learn fast how to approach students and keep their attention alive
enlarge your teaching experience even out of academia
(most important) try to have a high-level professional experience in a qualified supranational institution dealing with real data.
Matteo Farne Ph.D.: My general advice is to be ready to experiment yourself in tasks and places you would never consider, even if you are not completely confident at the beginning. This primarily holds also for meeting people, as key people (mentors and peers) are the true driver of any academic carrier.
In few words, I would say: "Embrace the unexpected!"
Melissa Keranen: I think the biggest trends we will see in the job market will be in areas that have been able to adapt to a virtual format. For some, the pandemic simply accelerated a process that had already been started. However, for other industries, the virtual format is a hurdle for them. The pandemic has forced people in every job to think outside of the box about the way they perform their work. Adaptability will be the key to future job trends.
Melissa Keranen: Every job requires a different skill set, but there are some skills that are relevant to every job. In my opinion, interpersonal skills are vital to the workplace, no matter where that workplace is. People need to be able to work together in order to accomplish tasks. For example, in an academic department, there are many ways in which faculty need to work together in order to make the department run smoothly. If that happens, then individual faculty have more time to be productive in their research and to focus on their classes. So when I see evidence of good interpersonal skills on a resume, I take notice.
Melissa Keranen: Graduates in our field end up in a variety of places. I think sometimes people are under the impression that there isn't very much you can do with a degree in math other than teach it or become an Actuary. While these are great options for graduates, it should be pointed out that a math degree is actually very versatile. For instance, Michigan Tech math graduates have found careers with employers as diverse as the Army, Ford, GM, IBM, Mayo Clinic, the National Security Agency, and the U.S. Forest Service.
Jon Anderson Ph.D.: I believe the biggest impact of the pandemic is that it accelerated the changes and trends already happening in society and the world of work. Data skills in general were steadily growing in importance in the pre-pandemic years, and it appears the demand for people with data skills has become even stronger in the pandemic era.
Interviewing for any position will involve giving a Zoom or Skype presentation in some form. A job seeker should be comfortable with giving a presentation online. A job seeker should not be surprised by teams working from a variety of locations with a loosely-defined home base.
Jon Anderson Ph.D.: I think it would be wise to enhance their set of tools and skills. This might be gaining expertise in coding with R or Python, taking additional courses in statistics, mathematics, computing, or data science, learning about databases, machine learning, and visualization. Perhaps a graduate could gain competence in a language other than English.
There are many good online learning opportunities for gaining new skills, but graduates might also consider volunteer opportunities for analyzing data for climate change, social justice, or economic development. A short internet search will reveal several organizations that facilitate volunteer data analysts working on a project. For example see the postings by Stats4Good from the American Statistical Association. This could be a great opportunity for networking and skill development.
As pandemic travel restrictions ease, it might be possible to gain language expertise by living in another country on a moderate-term basis.
Jon Anderson Ph.D.: I think a graduate should carefully weigh the pros and cons of pursuing a graduate degree. With any level of education, any graduate should always keep their skills up to date, and think about what can best prepare them for the next phase of their career. Look for mentors and a work culture where employee development happens and is expected. Always give some thought and prepare for the next step in the career path.
Dr. Omayra Ortega Ph.D.: The biggest trends that we will see in the job market will be in the tech sector, data science, and healthcare. These sectors have been growing even before the pandemic and demand in these fields has increased because of the pandemic. Any job with "analyst" in the title requires the analytical skills acquired with a degree in these fields, and these types of jobs abound. Analytical skills are essential to really any industry, so mathematics and statistics majors, generally, have an easier time of finding positions after graduation.
Dr. Omayra Ortega Ph.D.: Everyone should have some familiarity with basic word processing software, spreadsheets, and some coding. It's impossible to know what coding languages will be in vogue when you are on the job market, but it is important to be familiar with at least one programming language. Most employers will be content that you have experience coding and are willing to learn a new language. The willingness to learn something new is essential. It's always best if you have the skills required for the job that you are applying to, but as the job market changes over time, it is difficult to predict what exactly employers will be looking for once you graduate. A good strategy for students still in school is to make sure that your soft skills are up to par. Leadership skills, the ability to work well in a team, public speaking skills, good writing proficiency, and generally communication skills are essential to every employer.
Dr. Omayra Ortega Ph.D.: What constitutes a "good" place to work really depends on the individual. You need to consider your own personal preferences (big cities versus small towns, climate, cost-of-living) and your own personal responsibilities to your family and community-do you have dependents or community attachments that require you to be in a specific area? In particular, now that many industries are moving to the remote work model, a good place to work is wherever there is good wi-fi.
Amy Ruffus-Doerr Ph.D.: If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that we can't count on the past to predict the future. As with everything this year so much is unknown it is difficult to answer this with any level of certainty. Given that, we do know that the pandemic has caused a mental health crisis and more people are seeking mental health services than ever before. Culturally responsive therapy, and practices are finally getting the attention they need as well. Another area of interest for psychologists that is rising is data science. Students who have a background in experimental or I/O psychology have the knowledge to work in the business world. Helping corporations make sense of all the new data regarding the changes in work life, spending habits, education, political ideas spurred on by the pandemic will be an area of job growth.
Amy Ruffus-Doerr Ph.D.: If you can, make sure that your job during your gap year is at least tangentially related to what you want to do when you restart your education. Just being in the same building puts you in front of people in your field and gives you a chance to make connections and network. If you can get the most entry level position at a hospital or office building, take that over a bar tending gig. Look up who is working doing the job you hope to do one day and find a way to bump into them and introduce yourself. The world is a small place and you never know when a connection could open a door.
If that isn't possible, there are still virtual internships and volunteer options during the pandemic. Find one and add to your skill set. The last thing would be to start really working on your application materials. This is such a time-consuming process take the gap year to really make them stand out. Get feedback from professors, bosses, family members, everyone! One small spelling error could get your application tossed so it must be perfect. Working on your resume or CV will also help you determine your areas of weakness so you can add some of those skills during your gap year.
Amy Ruffus-Doerr Ph.D.: Well two disparate things come to mind. First, hustle. I feel like the beginning of your career is like going on a series of blind dates. You want to make that amazing first impression, but you don't want your employer (or other employees for that matter) to take advantage of you. It's an incredibly fine line to walk. Second, if you don't have a lot of experience with money get educated. There are a lot of free resources out there that can help with debt (student or other), investing retirement ect. If you know someone you trust a financial advisor is a great option too. Most graduates will have student debt and this will be their first salaried or high paying jobs. Even if it is a job making $30,000 a year they can start making healthy financial decisions. It may be difficult to think that far out, but if they take control of their finances now, they may be able to take a job they love over one they need in the future.