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.
Dr. Stacy Atchley Ph.D.: Within the environmental sector, unlikely. Within the energy (hydrocarbon) sector we've already experienced a major contraction tied to decreased global energy consumption.....related to decreased commerce (industrial) and transportation activity. As the nation (and world) open up as the pandemic winds down, economic and transportation activity will rebound....and require hydrocarbons to fuel that activity. Given the pandemic-related contraction of the sector (and related layoffs), there won't be existing staff to manage associated project growth. This will likely (may) result in significant hiring beginning in the next couple of years or so.
Dr. Stacy Atchley Ph.D.: National Association of State Boards of Geology (ASBOG) exam. Required, particularly in the environmental sector, to certify geoscience competencies.
Dr. Stacy Atchley Ph.D.: Graduate degrees (M.S. and/or PhD); geospatial numerical modeling skills and associated expertise in data analytics (geostatistics, including machine learning and related artificial intelligence).
Anne Toomey Ph.D.: I think that in the short term, the job market for recent graduates will be very tough. Many environmental organizations have reduced budgets this year, and subsequently, hiring freezes. I also think 2021 graduates will have had less experience (on average) than those in previous years due to the lack of study abroad, internship and other job opportunities during Covid. For example, most summers I work with at least one or two undergrads on research, but this past year we had to postpone our fieldwork due to Covid.
However, in the medium to long term I think graduates in the environmental fields will do very well. Almost every company these days is thinking in one way or another about their environmental impact (key words being "sustainability", "green", etc.). I think the pandemic has demonstrated to many the importance of access to green spaces, clean air, etc., and over the next few years there will be increased investment in these areas, thus leading to a healthy job market.
Anne Toomey Ph.D.: This is purely a guess, but I suspect that ways that people have adapted to the pandemic this year will continue. I think there will be a lot more flexibility in terms of where people can work, and thus revised expectations in terms of amount of time in the office vs. working from home.
On the other hand, because of the social direction the environmental field is going in, I suspect there will be a lot of jobs that require a lot of time connecting with people and communicating. So while new graduates may spend less time than previous generations in the office, they may find themselves engaging with the public more.
Anne Toomey Ph.D.: Broadly speaking, I think the most important skill any recent graduate can have is to be flexible and versatile, able to adapt to constantly changing conditions. The biggest learning curve for most recent graduates is to figure out a way forward when the path isn't totally clear. I see this frequently among undergrads - they tend to get stuck when they hit a barrier and often don't know how to figure out a way forward on their own. In college, there are many support systems (e.g. you can go to your professors' office hours if you have a question) - but when you have a boss, you can't ask them for help every step of the way. You need to figure things out on your own and come up with alternative ideas when the original plan doesn't work out. Graduates who can do this will be a step ahead of the game.
In the environmental field, understanding the social side of things is paramount. I think that science communication is going to be a bigger deal and that requires good writing skills, speaking skills, and how to create online content people will pay attention to. Environmentalism has also recently come under a lot of critique due to its prior lack of engagement with racism and justice, and I think that this is an area where the next generation of environmentalists will have a lot to contribute.