September 18, 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.
Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Temple University
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Louisiana State University and A&M College
Kansas City Art Institute
Kansas State University
University of Dubuque
Ferris State University
Montclair State University
AIGA, the professional association for design
Sue Jenkins: It might be too soon to tell. At Marywood U., 97% of 2019 grads are employed or going to grad school, but we don't have figures yet for the class of 2020. What we have seen since March 2020 is an increase in remote internships and employment opportunities. This COVID-adaptive type of flexibility will likely influence how employers hire and retain designers in the post-COVID world.
Sue Jenkins: A strong understanding of the Principles and Elements of Art and Design, killer typography skills, an understanding of color theory, some training in sociology and psychology to gain a better understanding of user experience, creative and critical thinking skills, attention to details, a strong conceptual framework that supports the project goals, the ability to speak up, take critical feedback and be a team player, and above all the courage to be authentic and bring something fresh to the table.
Sue Jenkins: Before saying what stands out most, there's one thing to avoid; those skill self-assessment bar graphs that take up too much real estate and don't provide the reader with valid, useful data. A better solution is to list skills and proficiency in years, such as Adobe Photoshop, three years.
Now, what stands out most on a resume is evidence of creative engagement beyond the classroom. Has the student been a member of any clubs? Won any awards? Have you participated in any solo or group exhibitions and completed any internships, pro bono, or freelance work? Have you worked on any side projects? Run an Etsy, Society6, or RedBubble account? Sold any commissioned work? Definitely include all these types of activities along with any tangible outcomes and achievements, like "Designed a series of digital documents that downsized paper waste and reduced the client's carbon footprint by 13%." Results-oriented statements provide a better sense of the designer's understanding of their role and their value to an organization.
Abby Guido: We've all heard the buzz about networking, and there is so much buzz because it works. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is both up to date and active. Connect with all of your past professors, classmates, and anyone and everyone you meet in a professional setting. I often tell students to get into the habit of searching for any classroom guests, or guest lecturers, to connect, thank them for their time, and build their network. Share content. Write articles, or reshare those you find interesting.
Every job I have ever received in my career has been through someone else I know. I share this with students to help them see the value in relationships. I always remember the students that took the time to write a handwritten thank-you note. And I think of them when I get an email asking if I know any students are looking for work.
Abby Guido: Our field is constantly changing and adapting; sometimes it moves so fast you cannot keep up. The areas I see growing are in AR/VR and experiential design.
Abby Guido: Designers can be well-compensated for their work. Some design areas are more lucrative than others, which tend to be the jobs in digital design. These jobs include user-experience design, experiential design, interactive design, motion design, and all AR and VR design positions.
Lisa TenHulzen: This is a big question. Because of the financial strains the pandemic has placed on the entertainment industry, I suspect we will see trends towards smaller cast shows as well as simpler productions, overall. I believe this will help to ease some of the financial burdens a large cast and crew can place on a theatre, as well as help ease the audience back into a sense of security. Depending on the location of the production, an audience might not feel comfortable attending a large-scale performance. Smaller shows lend themselves better to smaller audiences. All of this to say, I believe theatre jobs will be in short supply for quite some time. At least until theatres are able to make up some of the financial losses. This means hiring will be limited to core positions of production such as directors, stage managers, technical directors, designers, and only a few technicians. For smaller theatres, we will most likely see theatre artists taking on multiple jobs within the production.
Lisa TenHulzen: What skills need to be enhanced really depends on the area of the theatre they traditionally worked in. For makers and artisans, I would suggest pursuing any hobby or job that will continue to stretch your creative side. You do not want to go for an extended period of time without making something with your hands. The same goes for the directors and actors, but find something where you can use your creative analysis and presentation skills. Start a podcast, read new plays, make videos, etc. The skill of a theatre artist can stagnate if it is not used. Take advantage of the time you have, and pursue a personal creative project.
Lisa TenHulzen: Work hard. I don't have to tell you that being successful in the theatre business is extremely difficult, even at the best of times. Post-pandemic, I believe this will be even harder. You have to be able to push yourself to become stronger, more professional and more driven than you ever anticipated. Being in the theatre professionally is not easy, and if you expect it to be, you are in the wrong field. Even the most talented among us have to work their tails off to be successful. Pursue anything and everything that comes your way, be kind to your colleagues, and be collaborative. Understand that there are 100 more artists waiting to take your place, so treat each position with the respect it deserves. One thing that will not change post-pandemic is how small the theatre world is and how much that can help or hinder you based on the relationships you build.
Dr. Jennifer Jorgensen Ph.D.: COVID-19 accelerated the widespread use of e-commerce, and omnichannel retailing has never been more vital. Consumers are doing their research before purchasing a product, or even going into a brick-and-mortar store, making technology even more important in our word. People entering the job market know how to utilize different technologies to allow company operations to be more transparent and efficient. Job candidates must be comfortable with data analytics and forecasting future challenges. During times of industry disruption, job candidates with a broad knowledge of the industry, including product development and design, supply chain and sourcing, merchandising, and textile science will be more desirable.
Dr. Jennifer Jorgensen Ph.D.: The retail industry is robust and requires many skills. Content and industry-related knowledge are essential, including comfort with computer applications like Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Excel. Beyond knowledge of the industry, job candidates need excellent communication skills in written and oral forms. It's also highly recommended that job candidates have work experience in their area of interest, which could include an internship, job shadow, or part-time position.
Dr. Jennifer Jorgensen Ph.D.: Job opportunities are everywhere in this industry. Keep an eye on your favorite brands and the location of their corporate offices. In particular, the Midwest is home to many corporate offices. There have been shifts for other offices to move to the Midwest to take advantage of its centralized location in the United States. Thus, the industry is all around us!
Louisiana State University and A&M College
College of Art and Design
Mark Boyer: I would think that those who have gone through this experience will be changed in ways we still have yet to learn. Some of those changes will be positive (adaptability, endurance, resiliency), and some may be negative (depression, loss of family members or jobs).
Mark Boyer: I don't think the skill set needed will change much from what it has been. Qualities that come to mind are: teachable, reliable, thoughtful, articulate, adaptable, engaged, critical thinker, technologically adept, able to think big and small, empathetic, and good listener.
Mark Boyer: I think an employer would be better to answer this question, but my speculation is that experience as an intern in an office would be important, any experience that would be in an area related to a direction the firm is going or type of projects they are pursuing. I think any type of construction or building experience would be of interest.
Chris Chapin: In reflecting on the future of Product Design, several words come to mind: sustainability, inclusion, entrepreneurship, and resilience. Entrepreneurship and resilience are especially needed as graduates enter unknown territory and an unpredictable job market. Grads cannot rely on the corporate community providing a secure career start. Instead, graduates must be prepared to be the designers of their own careers, creating new opportunities for themselves that may not have previously existed. The current pandemic, with all of its new challenges, amplifies this need for self-determination, flexibility, and resilience.
In the field of Product Design, I see a growing need for personalization of products, especially in healthcare products, in order to touch people's lives in ways that are unique to them. We have a saying in the Product Design department at Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI): "Design is about changing lives for the better - Product Design is how we reach every life." So, I guess the biggest trend I see is the need for students and graduates to not be afraid to lead right away, first in their own career start and second in the meaningful use of their skills.
Chris Chapin: I would recommend they take this time to learn and practice new digital tools of the Product Design field. The expectation, once they enter the profession, is that they will already be up to speed on the tools. I advise students to research their target employers and become familiar with the ways in which they work. This pandemic period is a great opportunity for students and graduates to round out their skills, knowledge, and professional perspective via online-course offerings. There is also no guarantee that a job will be waiting for them. In which case, it is best if they are prepared to create their own career starts with a spirit of persistence and entrepreneurship.
Chris Chapin: My advice to all students and graduates is to be entrepreneurial. I define entrepreneurship as a skill set that helps us bring great design solutions to life and into the lives of those who need them. It is part business, part implementation strategy, and can manifest as a new business, as social entrepreneurship, or as intrapreneurship. In either case, it broadens career options for graduates and empowers them with the confidence and skillsets to take control of their careers.
Barbara Anderson: Graduating design professionals will have personal experiences with how places influence health, specifically transmitting infectious diseases. This will change their awareness and understanding of the role of environments in human health. The less obvious impact is the personal awareness we are all gaining the psychological effects of stress and how well-designed spaces can support mental health and well-being.
Barbara Anderson: Technology in buildings and using technology to design buildings and communicate with teams and clients will be more critical than ever.
Barbara Anderson: The experiences individuals can describe on a resume are meaningful, but soft skills are most impressive in a new hire. My top two soft skills areas are communication (listening, speaking, writing, digital and analog visualization) and being productive in a team (cooperation, constructive conflict, continual personal improvement, taking responsibility, anticipating others' needs).
University of Dubuque
Digital Art and Design Faculty
Alan Garfield: Yes, I believe there will be an enduring impact of the pandemic on graduates, but it will diminish over time. Immediately, I think our graduates will proceed more carefully in their job searches after graduation. Will they work from home? From a central workplace? (These are questions that might have entered into the interview stage will be more pertinent given students' recent experiences.) They have learned to listen more keenly via their online discussions and projects, which will be a positive effect as they move into working with clients.
Alan Garfield: Technology and creativity have always been important for graduates, but in 2020 this has become even more pressing. Creative solutions to problems involve creative use of technology but not a reliance on technology. Graduates have recently learned this thru frustration via university-level coursework during this pandemic time. Second, communication, always critical, takes on an added focus because of the technology's strengths/weaknesses. Excellent listening skills can be demonstrated easily. When an employer talks about a position, there are many ways to acknowledge what is heard. There are also ways to show that one hasn't listened to what was said. Third, demonstrating networking skills - connecting with others who do similar work - will assure the completion of tasks. Solutions via teamwork should now be a significant push by graduates.
Alan Garfield: Besides soft skills, which I don't think can be 'proven' on a resume, I believe that experiences that demonstrate what a candidate has done either in class or outside of the course are significant. An employer will not find a candidate who has done precisely what needs to be done in all likelihood. If there are examples - deliverables - which are somewhat close to those in the position and demonstrate timing, communication, and excellence in production, then the employer takes less of a risk. Also, merely throwing out names of software is worse than useless. It is sloppy. I believe your resume should list software/hardware (name and company) and a simple, humble measure of the applicant's level of experience in that software. Please include Oss as well.
Patrick Klarecki: The Printing and Packaging Industry has had a strong history of employing college graduates each year. In my 28 years as faculty/administrator for the Graphic Communication and Graphic Media Management degrees, we have always had 3-6 jobs available for each of our graduates. Even through the 2008 economy, we were able to celebrate full employment for our graduates.
Patrick Klarecki: Graduates in May 2020 and December 2020 did not see the opportunities their previous alumni did. We were able to place only about 25% of our graduates. There are a couple that have offers of employment "When things get better."
Patrick Klarecki: Recent projections from the Printing United Alliance show business owners are optimistic about 2021 and see their needs returning to "Pre-COVID" levels by the end of 2021 or early 2022. The workforce in our industry continues to age, technology continues to evolve, and young minds' needs will prevail.
Lauren Carr: Most people in the animation/visual effects industry work within a creative team and specialize in particular areas. New graduates applying for positions at studios will typically show their work in reel format, posted on Vimeo, YouTube, or other social media platforms. It is essential for new graduates to continually study their field and stay up to date with technology and software standards.
Lauren Carr: Technology and a biblical pandemic have changed the perspective of studios, who are now working remotely. Perhaps industry people won't have to up and move their lives to other parts of the country to work on a show.
Lauren Carr: We see so much possibility and growth in VR, AR, and gaming engines. In my estimation, the future looks very exciting.
Bennie F. Johnson: Our Design Futures research from 2018 covered this topic in some detail. Some highlights of needed skills include an understanding of business models, complex systems, and data. One of the seven Design Futures trends is "Bridging Physical and Digital Experiences," which has become even more important in a COVID world. Of course, mastering craft and specific tools remain important, especially for entry-level work, but so is a general ability to "learn how to learn," as the rate of technical change (and obsolescence) is only getting faster.
In May of 2020, AIGA conducted an industry pulse check survey around the impact of COVID-19 on the design community and found, not surprisingly, that adaptability skills continue to be the most critical for design professionals, and collaboration made the list of top five skills for the first time.
Bennie F. Johnson: Traditionally, designers have flocked to big cities on the coasts (LA, SF, NY) for educational and career opportunities, but other big cities and regional centers have been strong as well. There are robust AIGA chapters and design communities across the country. If anything, the pandemic has radically changed employers' thinking about geography, as fully remote and hybrid work situations will likely continue, even after a COVID vaccine is widely available. I think solid advice for graduates would be to seek out places where they have a sense of community and where they would like to live. While most of the growth in design jobs is in the tech industry, which has traditionally been based in the large coastal cities, there are now more opportunities for flexible live/work arrangements. Opportunities are emerging throughout the country for design professionals as businesses expand and adapt to our newest paradigms for work.
Bennie F. Johnson: We will likely see the Bureau of Labor Statistics trends cited in the Design Futures research to continue to intensify. "Traditional" design jobs had already been decreasing pre-pandemic, due to technological change, while design jobs in technology fields have been growing rapidly. So if anything, it will be designers who will be making a strong impact on technology. This doesn't necessarily mean that all designers will need to code. It does mean that the need for designers to understand complex systems, business models, and the social/cultural/ethical implications of their designs.
While there are tremendous challenges ahead, the design community has a unique opportunity to show leadership, to do good, and to inspire. Unprecedented times can lead us in new and unexpected directions that allow relationships to be strengthened and provide opportunities for expanding networks and connecting in exciting ways with family, friends, and colleagues. The ability to adapt is what is needed in these times.
Rich Youmans: The greatest skills that any graduate can have, not just those entering the jewelry industry, are flexibility and the ability to continuously learn new practices and procedures. For those who want to start their own businesses, a foundation in business/marketing practices will always be helpful. For bench jewelers, good hand-eye coordination is a must, but they must also take the time to learn their craft: to be able to set a gemstone without fear of it coming loose, for instance, and to do so quickly (if they're in a production shop). There are a few good schools dedicated to these skills, but many times the true learning must come through on-the-job experience.
For designers, the computer-assisted design has taken a growing role, but it doesn't compensate for that foundational knowledge: how to create designs that can hold gems securely, how to protect fragile gems, and how to ensure the piece can be manufactured, and a customer can wear the piece comfortably.
Caster may need to develop an understanding of basic metallurgical principles -- e.g., how metal flows, cools, and shrinks-but again, that can be learned on the job.
More and more custom jewelers -- jewelers who work directly with customers to create personalized pieces of custom jewelry -- and for that, the ability to listen and to solicit a customer's tastes and preferences will be crucial.
Rich Youmans: There are a number of jewelry retailers (both small independents and large chains like Signet) that have a need for bench jewelers, and jewelry manufacturers also need good help. However, they often require skill levels above those of recently graduated students. As noted above, students will need to be able to learn on the job to advance their skills.
States in the U.S. with a significant jewelry manufacturing presence include New York, California (primarily around Los Angele), and Rhode Island/Southeastern Massachusetts, but there are many significant companies throughout the United States-Akron, Ohio (Signet), Lafayette, Louisiana (Stuller), and Albuquerque, New Mexico (the Rio Grande, a Berkshire Hathaway company) are just three that come to mind.
Rich Youmans: Computer-assisted design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) and lasers have become commonplace, but these technologies continue to be honed. In the past few years, 3-D printers have become more affordable, and their quality and output continue to improve. This has opened up more opportunities for jewelry at all levels to increase their productivity. Three-dimensional metal printing, in which users can take a CAD file and print them directly in metal, could disrupt the traditional casting method, but the technology isn't quite there yet -- the cost is still too exorbitant. But the best tools for jewelers are still their hands-there will always be a market for handmade work done by skilled craftsman.