March 17, 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.
Steve LaDochy Ph.D.: I see trends in several areas, but near the top I would think has to be data, data analyses, data collection, data presentations. Computer skills are a must, especially working at home. Knowing program languages makes graduates more employable. GIS continues to expand its applications.
Steve LaDochy Ph.D.: A GIS certification or license can be very useful in government, private and public agencies. Urban analysis options in BA, MS programs can be very useful, especially for applying in urban planning positions. Climatology and climate change courses can be useful in several fields and is becoming important at local and national levels.
Steve LaDochy Ph.D.: Salaries have gone up substantially in my field (climate, meteorology, remote sensing) including positions in academia. Research positions dealing with climate change, urban climates and earth sciences have increased greatly in the last decade or so. Lots of post-doc positions are also in demand in these fields.
Department of Chemistry, Geology and Physics
Dr. William Reinthal Ph.D.: International markets are, in many ways, far more open than the domestic market, but that's probably not an option for someone looking for employment with just an undergraduate degree (unless they possess dual citizenship or are fluent in other languages). The market for students with only B.A. or B.S. degrees will always be much more limited than for those with M.S. degrees in geology, and the jobs will often be far less desirable, from a career standpoint.
The domestic job market has become difficult, but not necessarily because of the pandemic, although that didn't help. The collapse of the international oil and gas markets, exacerbated by decreasing demand because of remote work, meant that a lot of experienced geologists (often with advanced degrees) have become unemployed, at the same time as students are leaving school with a B.A./B.S. The recovery from this will be slow. Further complicating these short-term problems is the rapid increase in renewable energy (and electric propulsion) markets; while oil and natural gas aren't going away any time soon, the major automobile manufacturers seem to be aggressively altering their plans for electric vehicles. We will still need to produce electricity, and that bodes well for the natural gas markets, long-term, but the domestic coal industry is rapidly disappearing. Natural resources will be needed for renewables, so metals exploration will continue to be strong, but mainly in other countries. Water resources, and knowledge of hydrogeology, will continue to be important sources of employment, both domestically and internationally, as world population continues to increase during a time of unknowable effects of climate change.
In addition, the pressure on academic programs, from decreasing enrollments and lower interest in the geological fields, coupled with remote classes, has put a lot of pressure on geology departments at many schools, with many shutting down, or reducing their size.
Dr. William Reinthal Ph.D.: Students looking for work should have as broad a base of knowledge as possible, including how to operate in the field (mapping, sample collecting, etc.). Specialized skills (e.g., operating specific pieces of analytical equipment) are always a plus, and any competencies, outside of geology, can only enhance employability. International work is always a potentiality, too, when travel restrictions are eased, but there are many hurdles to overcome to get work in other countries, and even more hurdles for those with only undergraduate degrees.
Soft skills are always a necessity, regardless of the type of work, and that hasn't changed with the advent of remote employment. Excellent communication skills (both verbal and writing) are always critical, regardless of the type of work, and interpersonal relations never disappear, even if they are remote.
Dr. William Reinthal Ph.D.: I don't have a wide-ranging knowledge of the trends in pay, over time, but advanced degrees generally produce better remuneration, professionals generally see some degree of upward mobility,particularly at large corporations, but probably a little less so for geologists than other technical fields. In academia, the cost pressure is relentlessly downward, as departments constrict, and the use of adjuncts increases; this is a particular problem, as academia (alongside industry) is actively shedding job positions, for people at all degree levels.
One bright spot for geology, in particular, is minority employment. The geological sciences have had an extreme, and ongoing, problem attracting minorities, and this has continued, right through the pandemic.
Eric Schueffner: We had a pretty slow Spring 2020 in regards to opportunities for our graduates at UW, but markets have picked up in recent months and our career services arm (SuccessWorks) is showing huge improvements in the areas of jobs and internship opportunities for our undergrads. It is not at 2019 levels, but it is looking much better. Since I work primarily with undergrads, I don't know how markets are going for MS or PhD graduates, but overall trends for entry-level work seem to be improving across industries.
Eric Schueffner: For our students, I think the ability to explain their scientific work or research to lay people of all ages is a huge area of skill. Knowing how to write and express their ideas is incredibly important entering the job market and being marketable to employers. We know that all students need writing, speaking, and professional communications skills to work in any area, but I think students in STEM areas have the most to gain from these soft skills.