February 24, 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.
University of Texas at El Paso
Department of Economics & FinanceWebsite
Tom Fullerton: Unfortunately, whenever there is a weak labor market, it can hinder career trajectories for at least some subsets of any graduating class. While that is worrisome, the federal stimulus programs of 2020 have prevented labor market conditions from disintegrating too badly. Many graduates this year will have to creative and versatile as they embark on their professional career paths.
Tom Fullerton: Work days may differ substantially every week of the year. Some days may involve working in largely empty office suites as human resource departments try to ensure that social distancing minimizes infection rates. Many days will involve working from home using laptop computers, tablets, and other electronic devices. Zoom and Skype meetings will remain part of the landscape.
Tom Fullerton: Information technology and software skills will remain in demand. Quantitative skills will help as companies attempt to harness large-scale data flows, many of which not organized in logical manners.
University of Michigan
Department of EconomicsWebsite
David Miller: While there may be broadly low demand in the labor market at the moment, the economy is likely to rebound as the proportion of the population that is vaccinated against COVID rises. So graduates who stay flexible may be able to take advantage of a strong labor market later in the year. That said, I anticipate a weak labor market in spring 2021. That will probably exacerbate inequality within this cohort of graduates.
David Miller: Economics graduates are in high demand because they have shown that they can think logically and systematically to solve well-specified problems. They have learned to watch out for unintended consequences and feedback effects. They have demonstrated facility with mathematical models, and have learned how to analyze and interpret data. They can apply these skills to new problems that they will face in the workplace, even outside the field of economics. Students majoring in economics might want to seek out some classes that emphasize writing skills and creative thinking-these skills are rarely developed in core economics classes, but are highly valued by employers.
David Miller: Remote work has turned out to be more productive than many employers realized pre-pandemic. This may make it easier for employers headquartered in cities with high living costs to hire employees who live further away, if they can work remotely at least part time. For instance, people who work for New York firms may be able to work from home in the outer Philadelphia suburbs, and commute to New York once or twice a week for in-person meetings. A Silicon Valley firm may be able to open up offices in Detroit or Memphis, with teams of workers who coordinate with their Silicon Valley colleagues remotely most of the time, and fly in for occasional meetings and conferences.
Argyros School of Business & Economics (ASBE)Website
Dr. Abel Winn: It all depends on the scale you want to look at. Twenty years from now economists may find that, in aggregate, 2021 graduates earn less than graduates from right before the pandemic and right after it. But I don't expect the effect to be large, and for any individual graduate the impact of COVID will be swamped by any number of individual decisions: the city they choose to work in, the number of hours they put in at the office, etc.
Dr. Abel Winn: There will be a lot of variability, because economics can be applied to so many types of problems. I would expect many of today's graduates to spend a lot of time working with data, looking for patterns and trends that their firms can capitalize on to create value and turn a profit.
Dr. Abel Winn: Employees who can competently conduct and interpret statistical analysis are in short supply. Graduates with expertise in data analytics will stand out from their competitors and command a premium in the labor market.
Department of EconomicsWebsite
Mary Kelly Ph.D.: In my opinion, the type of work we do will not change or change significantly because of the pandemic. Demand for business school graduates in economics and other disciplines will continue to be strong. What we will see a permanent shift in is how we work. Being remote (or working from home) creates challenges for all, but particularly so for those just entering the workforce. Even assuming offices begin opening again in 2021, a higher percentage of work will be conducted remotely. Consequently, new hires will have to take advantage of more limited in-office time to network, ask questions of managers, and observe corporate norms. When working remotely, they will have to do the same. It is a just a bit more difficult. With email communications, they will need to be mindful of tone and grammar/spelling. Since some of their work will be unobservable, workers will need to keep track of what they are doing for "check-in" conversations with managers and performance reviews.
Mary Kelly Ph.D.: My big three here are communication skills (oral and written), critical-thinking, and the ability to work effectively in teams.
Indiana University South Bend
School of Business and EconomicsWebsite
Huanan Xu Ph.D.: I think the biggest trend will be a more flexible working environment. With that said, the job market will also demand candidates with greater self-disciplined work ethic. The pandemic brings challenges to both job seekers and employers, it especially disturbs the work-life balance in a normal life. Almost 40 percent of jobs are categorized as teleworkable and are performed at home during the pandemic.  With the trend moving forward, people with the ability to budget time and deliver quality outcome without a forcing stare will stand out.
Huanan Xu Ph.D.: The ability to gather effective data. Being able to create table or chart full of numbers doesn't mean collecting or presenting effective information. During this era of information being "more than enough", employers would appreciate the skills of digging useful information rather than a simple translating of the existing information.
The ability to interpret data. This is more demanding than the first point. The first point is to show the descriptive information of data while the second point requires stronger statistical and econometric skills to interpret data in a meaningful way. For example, conduct hypothesis test, build casual relationships, etc. This is also what we are emphasizing in our economics program to teach students data analytical skills and data processing skills.
Huanan Xu Ph.D.: I believe a good job could offer you the opportunity to empirically apply what you have acquired in school at the same time connect to your long-term career goal.
It's not always easy to locate a dream job at the first attempt out of college. Some first job might be tedious, and some might be too challenging. But this is the first opportunity where a student could apply theories learned from book to real world cases. I would recommend taking this opportunity to bring fresh ideas to team that may transfer into real productivity. I would also recommend making a short-term (1-year) and a long-term (5-year) career plan to vision clearly what is the path you want to follow. Comparing your current achievement at work with your long-run goal can help to see discrepancies and figure whether what you are doing would lead to where you want to be in the future.
St. Olaf College
Marcus Bansah Ph.D.: There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic will have an enduring impact on graduates. Even if the economy had recovered quickly the same way it fell at the early stages of the pandemic (known as V-shaped recovery), a significant backlog of unemployment would have been created. However, the fact that the pandemic lasted for about a year now means there would be an increasing number of graduates that finds it difficult to secure a job. This would definitely have a ripple effect on the labor market as the pandemic continues and another batch of graduates join the unemployment queue this summer.
Another reason why this pandemic would have an enduring impact on graduates is that it takes time for the economy to recover and generate the level of jobs similar to that of the pre-pandemic level. Graduates from minority background would be affected disproportionality since it is common knowledge that the unemployment rate for minorities is often higher than that of Whites. Data from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the unemployment for Black/African Americans for December 2020 was 9.9 percent while the unemployment rate among Whites and Asians is 6.0 percent and 5.9 percent respectively.
Marcus Bansah Ph.D.: To thrive in the labor market in the coming years, young graduates need a variety of skills including proficient data analytic skills, report writing skills, and excellent communication skills. The economy is becoming increasingly more information and technology based. As such, there are many jobs that require knowledge of how to analyze big data and present findings to senior management for evidence-based decision making. Apart from knowing how to use modern software and programing languages (Matlab, Python, SQL, Stata, R) and data analytic techniques such as regression, machine learning, and predictive analytics, knowing how to write reports and clearly communicate information based on the data is crucial. Effective communication skill is needed for all graduates irrespective of whichever sector of the economy they planned to work.
Marcus Bansah Ph.D.: Knowledge in the use of software and programming languages, report writing or research experience.
St. Olaf College
Allison Luedtke Ph.D.: There will be an enduring impact of the pandemic on everyone.
Allison Luedtke Ph.D.: Seek out courses in which you will challenge yourself and add new tools to your toolbelt. College students - especially economics majors - have access to an incredible variety of courses. If you can get good at (1) a programming language (e.g., Python, Julia), (2) statistical programming (e.g., R, Stata), and (3) mathematical modeling, you're going to be one of the most hireable people on the market.
Allison Luedtke Ph.D.: A couple of years ago, a recruiter for a major investment bank emailed me to ask if she could speak with my economics class about the job prospects at her firm. I was somewhat surprised because her firm has a lot of name recognition and was not particularly local. She said that they were desperate to hire graduates from liberal arts colleges because these graduates have the technical skills (programming, statistics, etc.) but they also have "soft" skills like clear communication, abstraction, problem solving, and team building. Students should seek out opportunities to build these skills, especially if they do not typically do this. For example, I did not particularly enjoy group projects when I was a student, but I am so grateful for the courses in which I had to work in a group to complete an assignment, because it made me a better economist, researcher, and teacher.