February 3, 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.
Department of KinesiologyWebsite
Grayson Lipford Ph.D.: Yes. The fitness industry was hard-hit by the virus. Fitness centers were some of the first businesses to be locked down and last to be allowed to open. In academic settings, sports, including strength and conditioning, were also shut down. This has caused a wave of bankruptcies and closures across the country, especially since many fitness centers were small businesses running on tight margins.
However, as the country claws its way out of the pandemic, there is great hope for the industry.
First, many of the precautions needed for avoiding COVID infection were already being used by fitness centers since our field is well-aware of the dangers of infectious diseases. Purpose built fitness centers are designed with HVAC systems that create more air exchanges than regular commercial buildings and exchange indoor for outdoor air to a greater extent. Fitness centers also are typically diligent about cleaning, even before the pandemic and have simply increased the frequency of cleanings. However, most evidence points to surface transmission as being a minor method of transmission, especially if individuals wash their hands and/or use hand sanitizer. (See this article in Nature: Nature )
Simply put, fitness centers may be safter than other business where patrons spend time, such as restaurants, as long as the members use masks and social distance while exercising.
This, however, is small comfort for businesses that went under during the early stages. So right now, employment may be harder to find temporarily. But, for young entrepreneurs, the market may be much more open to new fitness businesses since competition may be diminished. There is an increased opportunity to gain a foothold in the market, especially if business diversify their offerings into areas such as options for home-based video-driven workouts, outdoor areas for fitness and other practices that may be safer for some. New graduates should be looking to develop skills in these areas to be competitive in the marketplace.
Grayson Lipford Ph.D.: The opportunities for graduates in the Kinesiology/Exercise and Sport Science field are many and varied. Graduates may pursue careers in commercial fitness, strength and conditioning in an academic setting, community health education, or pursue graduate degrees in Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Medicine, Dentistry, or other health-related fields. Therefore, it's difficult to say what a day at work will look like since jobs can be so varied. However, expect that, obviously, more time will be spent on cleaning at the site and more remote work, such as video-based meetings with clients and patients. Skill at using technology has always been important but the recent events have emphasized this. Also, being agile and able to quickly adapt to changing environments is key. There will continue to be changes in procedures and regulation and the ability to "roll with the punches" is important.
Grayson Lipford Ph.D.: Although the ability to design and implement training programs that are effective at helping clients and patients reach their goals while simultaneously motivating them to adhere to their program is has always been the crux of what we do, additional technology skills are becoming increasingly important. The ability to market using social media, where most people get fitness information from, for marketing has been implemented for years, but now being able to deliver products and services through a variety of pathways, most involving technology, is a growing area. Communications skills, although not technical, so to speak, are some of the most important "soft-skills" for those in Kinesiology/Exercise and Sport Science to possess.
The University of Alabama in Huntsville
Department of KinesiologyWebsite
Dr. Paul Whitehead Ph.D.: I think it is safe to say the pandemic will have a lasting effect on all of us. We have had to adjust the way we attend class, the way we study, and the way we test. Some of the changes will have a positive impact on future attempts, while some adjustments have helped highlight some aspects that aren't favorable. For graduates who have had their senior year impacted by the pandemic, I think there are some real positives. The recent graduates have had to learn to be more flexible and accommodating, as 2020 was a series of unknowns. The recent graduates have also had to improve their intrinsic motivation and time-management skills, as there wasn't necessarily the daily reminders from the professor in the classroom. I remember telling my students in March when the pandemic first forced us online, "You'll have a story to tell your grandkids one day." Now that we are almost a full year into the pandemic, those words strike even more true.
Dr. Paul Whitehead Ph.D.: New graduates will have to learn to be accommodating and flexible to whatever the world may throw our way. If 2020 has told us nothing else, it is to expect the unexpected. Students from 2020 became graduates by having to be flexible to a new learning environment, accomodating to revised assignments, and learning new technologies along the way. The skills of being adaptable will be needed in virtually all fields for the foreseeable future, and the tribulations that 2020 classrooms endured will make many recent graduates better equipped to be successful.
Dr. Paul Whitehead Ph.D.: At UAH, we have a dedicated research component for all of our seniors, and most of our graduates come away having conducted thesis-caliber work as part of a small research group. More and more, research experience is being valued on resumes and applications. Even if a student never does another research project after they leave our program, I am a firm believer that the two-semester group research experience will make them more successful in their professional goals. They have to learn to comb through the literature and synthesize the material. They have to learn to work well as part of a group. They have to collect and analyze their data. They have to present their findings. Whether they continue in human performance assessment or not, the skills of synthesizing information, strategizing effective group work and management, organizing information, and presenting your work will be present in virtually any professional realm.
Utah Valley University
Department of Exercise ScienceWebsite
Tyler Standifird Ph.D.: Our primary students are going into health related fields, including exercise, fitness, and therapy/medicine. I think what we have seen in the past years will be accelerated, and that is the idea of the nontraditional exercise and therapy approach. It will be fun to see the creativity that will develop as individuals try and get exercise and therapy at home and in nontraditional gym settings. Telemedicine will need to improve and allow individuals to stay healthy on their own time, in their way, and without large groups.
Tyler Standifird Ph.D.: I am excited to see how the ability to detect movement and health will continue to improve. Activity monitors can do everything from HR to simple EKG measurements. We have sleep tracking and physical activity tracking, and all of these things will need to get better. Wearable sensors that can put out fitness and essential health metrics will be the most crucial trend shortly. AS a part of that is an ability for exercise professions, therapists, and doctors to use these devices to gather data without having to see a patient. A therapist or doctor can get some basic idea of the range of motion of a joint, strength in a muscle, cardiovascular issues, sleep issues, and even essential brain activity.
Tyler Standifird Ph.D.: I think medicine, and therapy, and health will increase as we know more about these fields' long-term benefit. Preventative medicine in wellness and healthy living will see a massive increase in the coming years. As the baby boomer generation gets older, we will need great therapists to take them through therapy post-stroke or total joint replacement. But those who are successful in this will be those who think outside of the box. We need graduates in these fields who can forge their path and think of unique and creative ways to engage individuals in healthy living and also therapy and medicine when needed. I think technology will give our graduates the tools, but they will need to use problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking skills to use those tools to provide results.
Midwestern State University
Department of Athletic Training & Exercise PhysiologyWebsite
Frank Wyatt: Well, using the word "skills" is somewhat misleading. First and foremost, the greatest tool that Exercise Physiologists will have in the coming years is their knowledge base. The field is changing so rapidly that our scientific knowledge of exercise and the human body is broadening at an incredible pace. As it relates to skills, I would say that being able to apply the aforementioned knowledge base will be a skill. The field has become so sophisticated in terms of cellular, molecular, and genetic components that an individual will have to be "skillful" in relaying that information to the application. Lastly, laboratory skills (i.e., blood analysis, metabolic measurements, genetic identification) will be necessary.
Frank Wyatt: What I have witnessed, from my students, is that larger metropolitan areas generally provide better opportunities in a broader spectrum with higher pay.
Frank Wyatt: Technology is greatly impacting the field of Exercise Physiology. Measurement devices have become incredibly sophisticated and precise. This is actually in conjunction with the direction the field is taking and that being more clinical in nature.