February 25, 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 Texas at El Paso
Case Western Reserve University
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
University of Montevallo
NC State University
University of Findlay
University of Central Florida
Dr. Isabel Baca Ph.D.: I believe the enduring impact of the pandemic on graduates will be on their use of technology. We have become accustomed to meeting online now. We conduct meetings, interviews, and conferences online, and this format may not go away anytime soon. The face-to-face interactions may not be the "normal" setting anymore.
Dr. Isabel Baca Ph.D.: The courses that will have the biggest impact on job prospects are technology and communication courses. Using different hardware, software, and technological platforms effectively and efficiently to communicate will be crucial in the workplace. Knowing how to use different social media is a must. Courses that allow students to learn and practice problem-solving and critical thinking will make them stronger job candidates. I also believe that having strong writing, speaking, and interpersonal communication skills will still be important in the workplace. Writing, of course, now entails composing multimodal texts/digital texts. Teamwork, knowing how to work with others, will still be important too.
Dr. Isabel Baca Ph.D.: Knowing how to use technology effectively and efficiently will help people in my field increase their earning potential. As stated above, knowing how to communicate well through different means will be very important. Composing print and digital texts, being strong in problem-solving and critical thinking, knowing how to work well with others, and using technology to convey messages effectively and efficiently will contribute to their earning potential. More knowledge on user experience will contribute as well.
Lisa Smith Ph.D.: Given the unique nature of the coronavirus pandemic, it is difficult to say with certainty exactly what the impact will be on graduates in any field of study, English included. However, the obvious trend right now toward less in-person work interactions points to opportunities for graduates with English degrees. Since undergraduate English programs emphasize critical thinking, oral and written communication skills, and the ability to empathize with and understand other perspectives, graduates with an English degree will be well-positioned to work as team members, managers, and communicators in many fields. The breadth of the skills developed by English majors means that even if one industry is impacted by the pandemic or other factors, English graduates can pivot and look for opportunities in many other fields. For those reasons, I believe those who hold English undergraduate degrees and have developed their communication and interpersonal skills specifically through these programs will have opportunities in many fields despite the pandemic.
Lisa Smith Ph.D.: Most undergraduate English programs have several specializations to choose from. Thus, if a graduate has completed the teaching track for an English degree, a teaching position is the desired position out of college. Similarly, technical writing specializations will position one to find a job as a technical writer either in-house for a large corporation or with a technical writing company. For those who graduate with a specialization in literature, their skills can be applied to many different entry-level jobs. For example, English graduates place well in government intelligence jobs, market research companies, editing/publishing jobs, jobs in law offices, and human resources positions. Any job that utilizes communication skills and values critical thinking and research training will be a landing place for English graduates.
Lisa Smith Ph.D.: Graduates holding an English degree can increase their earning potential in several ways. First, minoring in a related field that will expand job opportunities such as business, science, or creative writing will broaden the skill set new graduates bring to the table. Taking advantage of internship opportunities while in college will also strengthen a resume, especially if a student has completed internships in different fields. Once you are working in the field, an English graduate should play to their strengths in the workplace, which usually include effective communication and connecting with others. Developing these people-related skills will enable English graduates to increase their earning potential by gravitating toward management opportunities.
Katey Roden Ph.D.: While the emotional and psychological trauma of having lived through a global pandemic will certainly impact this generation of graduates in ways we cannot yet quantify, there are also potential positives. Pandemic-era graduates will have first-hand experience adapting to stressful environments and new/challenging modes of communication and learning. The flexibility and ability to modify one's typical modes of engagement will be valuable skillsets for the coming generations of graduates who will encounter shifting forms of employment that are also responsive to the lessons we've collectively learned from the pandemic. The type of self-knowledge that comes from having survived (and perhaps thrived) in challenging digital environments can be an asset and confidence booster when these graduates encounter new variables in life and in the workforce.
Katey Roden Ph.D.: There is a reason that English majors are some of the most marketable graduates. The critical thinking skillsets developed in literary theory or early literature courses like Shakespeare are invaluable. Being able to unpack the meaning of complex theoretical schools of thought and apply them to the world around you and your lived experience bridges academic knowledge with an understanding of the human condition and complexities of culture. Being able to make meaning out of a challenging and influential text like Hamlet's "quintessence of dust" monologue, for example, indicates more than deep thinking-this type of interpretive work is evidence of a prospective employee's ability to take on complex tasks that may require sustained interest and examination.
The resilience and grit required to read and re-read in order to question and interpret lengthy passages of difficult text fashion employees who are not only capable of independent thought but confident in their abilities to actively engage complexity. Reading broadly and also deeply presents the opportunity to encounter multiple perspectives and identity positions that might be foreign to your own worldview and experiences; employers are looking for employees who will actively improve their corporate culture and create a safe work environment for every employee. Individuals who are comfortable encountering and meaningfully engaging in negotiating difference will shape employment success.
Katey Roden Ph.D.: Written and oral communication skills are essential for workplace success. The ability to clearly articulate or clarify ideas and/or project plans is a key indicator of potential for career advancement. In a corporate world of emails or Slack channels, expressing complex ideas in clear and concise language is a great value.
Case Western Reserve University
Department of English
Dr. Gabrielle Bycowski Ph.D.: The pandemic will undoubtedly shape the future of the job market and how various professions function. Graduates will enter into a professional world different from the one that existed prior to the emergence of Covid-19. While the specifics of the future are hard to predict with certainty, the adaptations that have occurred in the wake of the outbreak can inform our expectations.
One thing that the pandemic has made evident is the importance of communication skills. With so much business being conducted during the past year from home or from isolated work stations, an employee's ability (or inability) to communicate clearly through email, texts, video messages and reports significantly impacts the productivity of individuals as well as teams. Even when workplaces return to a state where coworkers can cooperate and speak regularly in close proximity, the habits formed over the pandemic will likely not be totally abandoned. Businesses know that work can and sometimes must be done remotely in one form or another. Meetings and information can be distributed with a degree of confidence if the communication is done well. This past year has been a providing ground for our abilities to function together across distance and difficult conditions if we know how to effectively speak and listen, write and read.
Dr. Gabrielle Bycowski Ph.D.: Beyond just honing the ability to read and write well, the most important courses that a student in an English department may take are those on diversity and equity. In a global economy, business is no longer conducted only among workers who all live in the same town, state, or country. It is highly likely that most professions will require job candidates to work closely, at one time or another, with people living in places far away. At the same time, millennials and generation Z are already demonstrating that an increasing number of job prospects will require candidates to move away from where they grew up or where they went to school.
Consequently, companies are seeing people from far away moving into towns, bringing a wider variety of cultural variety to areas that had formerly been relatively homogeneous. As a result, an education in diverse racial, national, linguistic, religious, sexual, gender identities are not only good ideas but essential foundations for ever changing and growing workplaces. While one class on African-American Literature or LGBT Art will not prepare a job candidate for every possible social situation, it will create the basis for one's future flexibility, empathy, respectfulness, and willingness to learn. Likewise, studying the interplay of power dynamics between dominant and marginalized groups in courses on justice and equity can prepare future job candidates to consider how social privilege, systemic oppression, and institutional policies unequally affect different populations.
One course on social issues will not cover all aspects of inequity but an introduction to some of the forces that diversely shape our social world will set up a graduate to better listen and adapt to ongoing civil discourses on racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, colonialism, and more.
Dr. Gabrielle Bycowski Ph.D.: English Degrees are more important now than they were in previous decades. While some people may jokingly ask, "what job can you get with an English Degree?" The answer is: many. Communication skills, including the ability to read with comprehension, analyze information, and translate that knowledge into easy to consume forms, are increasing in demand. Professions that require a high level of coordination or regularly utilize communication technologies have long known the value of a job candidate with an English major or minor.
As other professions modernize, more and more business is being done online or across distances. Websites and teleconferencing are becoming increasingly normal and essential. As businesses start to communicate directly to consumers, job candidates need to be able to translate information from experts into chunks that can be put onto social media. My advice to English majors is to not think about their degree as an identity but as a collection of skills and proficiencies. If you break down the talents and training of an English major, you find the traits of a strong job candidate for the ever evolving, increasingly communication-based workplace of the coming decade.
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
Department of English
Patrick McGrath: I think that there will be an impact on graduates as a result of the pandemic, but I don't know how "enduring" it will be.
Patrick McGrath: A good job out of college is one that pays a living wage. Our English graduates often have skills that might take employers longer to recognize. An ability to communicate clearly, facility with the written word, and the host of emphatic "soft skills" English teaches are especially valued at the management level. Our graduates become managers, but they may not start there.
Patrick McGrath: A minor in a foreign language always seems to me a good idea. The more cultural diversity English majors can absorb, the stronger they are in an increasingly globalized and multi-cultural world. I would also recommend some courses in the digital humanities, since those classes often play to the traditional strengths of English majors (reading and writing abilities) while also introducing them to digital concepts. An employee who can write well for digital platforms is highly marketable indeed!
Alexander Beringer: I think that a lot of employers are in a holding pattern, waiting to see what the market will be like on the other side of the pandemic. Anecdotally speaking, I have tried placing several students in internship positions that we have previously placed each year and have found that employers have been cutting unnecessary costs in the short-term. Unfortunately for students and new graduates, this seems to mean that the creation of new positions and internships may have to wait until we achieve some clarity on where the economy will be in the next few years. It seems equally plausible that things could come roaring back very quickly once vaccines are widespread or that the recovery and hiring could be slower.
Alexander Beringer: I don't think that this has changed all that much as a result of the pandemic. The old standbys of communication, professionalism, intellectual adaptability, and personal flexibility will always serve students and jobseekers well. One might put a special emphasis on adaptability and flexibility in the current climate. So many people are being asked to adopt new tasks, technologies, and approaches. As a result, the ability to learn things quickly and to put challenges in perspective has never been more important. These are, by the way, the primary skills developed in a liberal arts education, where students train not in a single skill, but instead to prepare themselves for a lifetime of learning and adapting.
Alexander Beringer: This seems very unpredictable to me. I have read a great deal about the coming boom in remote work with people working from home and interacting primarily online via technologies like Zoom and Slack. These predictions intuitively seem to be on-target. If this does indeed come to pass, it means that recent graduates will need to be very disciplined about maintaining a stable routine and creating clear barriers between home and work.
Dr. Josh Matthews: The turn to digital, thus digital marketing, sales, persuasion in general - involving writing, images, and creativity in general. Every company and business needs people who can do those things well. They are skills in short supply.
Dr. Josh Matthews: People need to acquire a wide variety of skills. Be a polymath, or at least a dilettante, which takes time. Writing, public speaking, critical analysis using logic, programming, speaking another language, game theory, drawing, graphic design, persuasion - some combo of these is helpful in any career, and in life in general. Many people, many workers, are actually proficient in NONE of them.
Dr. Josh Matthews: Anything where you can have great mentors and are taught to think entrepreneurially.
Huiling Ding: With remote work becoming increasingly popular with employers, a recent graduate may find him/herself working from home at least from time to time and rely on digital tools and teleconferences for collaborative work with colleagues and clients. He or she may have to take more responsibilities and work on multiple roles across teams via email, Zoom meetings, and sometimes face to face due to the impacts of the COVID-19 recession. Business travel will be greatly reduced and commuting time will be cut substantially.
Huiling Ding: Data science, cybersecurity, natural language processing, data visualization, video production/editing, social media content production, SEO, digital marketing, ability to work with domain experts/cross-functional to produce communication products, ability to provide domain expertise to work with AI experts to implement AI solutions in organizations, excellent writing/editing/communication skills.
Huiling Ding: I work in the field of technical communication and will focus on the job outcomes of our MS students in technical communication here. The job market seems to recover quite quickly and we are starting to see multiple technical writing positions advertised by employers such as Red Hat. I do have access to labor market analytics tools such as Burning Glass and Emsi, whose data looks quite promising too. I don't have the salary information from students at this early stage since our exit survey will not be finished until late May, but past data shows that students entering the job market during or right after recessions tend to have lower starting salaries, which can result in lower salaries later.
Department of Classical, Middle Eastern, and Asian Languages and Cultures
Raymond Capra Ph.D.: I assume graduates in Classical Studies will be impacted in the short term as with many other graduates as the economy recovers. A greater danger is the harm to the discipline and liberal arts in general as Colleges and Universities look for smaller programs to cancel.
Raymond Capra Ph.D.: A Classical Studies major is the most marketable of Liberal Arts degrees. Our students graduate with praticed skills in reading and writing of course, but they have the ability to apply analysis to texts in a number of languages and to understand how language influences meaning. Moreover Classical Studies has a cultural component which, at least in my program at Queens College, stresses the interconnectedness of the ancient, Mediterranean world.
Raymond Capra Ph.D.: The most direct ceritification or license for Classical Studies majors is to become Latin teachers at the secondary level, thus it is necessary to follow individual state protocols. I am more familiar with New Jersey where I live.
The major is often a path to Law School or to Medical school.
Dr. Jennifer Fennema-Bloom: Short-term impact:
The coronavirus pandemic may impact short-term employment especially for TESOL graduates as the virus shut down visa offices all over the world, that coupled with restrictive visa policies in the United States dissuaded and/or prevented international students from studying in the United States. This in turn affected the ability for many universities to sustain their campus' intensive English language programs (IELPs/ELPs). However, if the vaccine is distributed and is as affective as hoped for, we should see countries opening their visa offices and a return to pre-coronavirus numbers. With that and hopefully a relaxation of the prior administrations restrictive immigration/study abroad policies, we may even see growth over the next four years.
An enduring impact is that of technology, on-line classes may increase as students and teachers became, out of necessity, more familiar with technologies that support on-line learning environments. I'm seeing an uptake of on-line instructors, that no longer have relocate to the country and live abroad to teach, but rather can teach from their laptops at home. Those in the testing and assessment fields have also had to adapt to make their tests more available to those quarantined. Universities have widened their test range from just IELTS and TOEFL scores to a wider range of tests that are more student friendly in price and accessibility such as offered by Duolingo.
Long term negative impact to foreign language teaching - I'm seeing PK12 schools start to replace foreign language faculty in lieu of on-line College Credit Plus (CCP) programs that give students access to college level language curriculum and teachers. Smaller schools thus no longer have to support their own faculty member and can take advantage of on-line university courses to meet language graduation requirements they may have in place.
Dr. Jennifer Fennema-Bloom: It depends on a student's career goal. State certified teaching license/endorsements have the biggest impact on employability within the public PK12 system. Students need to remember that only a license and endorsements (add-ons to a primary license) makes them eligible for teaching in public PK12 school systems in the United States. If teaching overseas, students must be aware of country's visa regulations and employment credentials. I see a lot of students getting certificates, especially in English as a Second Language to find out later that they aren't respected or acknowledged by the country they had hoped to teach within. University programs that offer licensure and endorsement in TESOL or Foreign Language are the safest educational investment route that students can take if wishing to become a teacher in the PK12. For most states, those that also pursue an MA in TESOL or Foreign Language can also find jobs at an instructor level at most colleges and universities.
Dr. Jennifer Fennema-Bloom: Students must have a greater command for technology and educational Apps than they did in the past. Pandora is out of the box, and the new norm we learned this past year, requires a savviness with technology especially those that interface with learning and communication. Even if the pandemic ends and we all return to face-to-face instruction, there will be a greater demand for educational technology in and outside the classroom.
Dr. Keith Folse Ph.D.: Graduating in the middle of a pandemic might seem daunting to many young people, and it certainly is uncharted territory. However, the good news is that businesses will have had at least a full year trying to figure out how to operate in our new reality with COVID-19. I would tell students that companies will survive, and they need to grow, which means they need to hire new people -- you!
I would tell students fresh out of college to be patient and to be flexible. The same job you wanted may not be hiring right now, so be ready and willing to consider other options.
For those graduating with a degree in language or linguistics, there are several possibilities. One steady option is teaching. I teach "Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)," and my students will try to get a job teaching English conversation overseas, such as in China or Japan, or Saudi Arabia. Unlike in the US, some countries have much lower COVID rates, and students are now learning face-to-face. Another possibility for new TEFL graduates is to teach students online from the US. No, this is not as cool as going to teach in those countries, but it is a viable option for now that allows you to gain valuable experience and earn some money. They will be even more competitive in the job market because of their accumulated knowledge.
Dr. Keith Folse Ph.D.: COVID has moved many online meetings, so operating a Zoom or similar meeting flawlessly is a useful skill, one that no one valued or even knew much about just a year ago. An even more valuable skill is being able to troubleshoot problems that are likely during an online meeting. Do you have good presentation skills, and could you conduct small workshops for large companies that want to train their employees to achieve good online conferences?
The answer to this question will vary as much as the many fields and employers that exist today. What are the needs of these employers? Do large employers even know their needs? They may not, but the consumers of those employers understand what they need, so I have a little different kind of tip here.
I would recommend that students identify their targeted fields, such as education or banking, or culinary, and then find 2 or 3 Facebook groups discussing that topic now. For example, thousands of teachers in hundreds of school districts across the US are teaching online now. Some use Zoom, some use Canvas, and others use something else. I am a member of Teaching Synchronously with Zoom in Korea (500+ members) and Teaching with Canvas (70,000+ members). Ask to join these groups. Lurk. Read. Study. Know what people are unhappy about and need. This is the type of information that companies need to thrive, especially in these challenging times.
Dr. Keith Folse Ph.D.: Well, the answer here depends mostly on the availability of and then effectiveness of the vaccines we're hearing about now. If COVID continues, then skills associated with online meetings will be very important. Also, be ready for Zoom's concept to morph into something new, something that might even replace it as the technology continues to grow. It might be hard to imagine a replacement for online meetings as we have now, but a year ago, how many of us had had a Zoom meeting?