January 10, 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.
(Lily) Li Linghong: Yes, remote work will play an increasingly important role in employment. The implications of this change include, but are not limited to, a more distributed workforce that is no longer concentrated in expensive metropolitan cities, and increasing demand for computer and internet savvy. Challenges to team member communication will require new tools for conducting meetings and brainstorming sessions, as well as facilitating project collaboration. The pandemic has accelerated the need for technological innovations that support remote learning and remote employment.
(Lily) Li Linghong: Internet and computer skills are required certainly, but also an ability to communicate effectively using new remote learning platforms such as Zoom and Teams. The challenge for managers is to create a cohesive workforce despite individual team members being geographically distant from one another. Graduates with abilities in modern communication modalities will have a clear advantage over those who are dependent upon face-to-face interactions as the primary mode of human interaction.
(Lily) Li Linghong: Communication skills, problem-solving, teamwork in a geographically distributed workforce, and personal learning to continuously update skills to keep up with the pace of modern technological innovation.
Tom Solomon: I don't think that what I am saying here is different than what you will hear elsewhere, but it is pretty obvious that the importance of higher education and technical skills becomes even more important in light of the pandemic. It seems pretty clear that people working in the service sector are the ones who are getting hit (economically) most hard by the pandemic, especially since face-to-face interactions on a regular basis can be dangerous. I have not seen a significant slow-down in the technology sector. Scientific and industrial research have always been important, but they are even more so in the midst of a pandemic. It is important to note that the coronavirus pandemic isn't the only crisis facing the planet over the next decade or so. Of course, global climate change is critical, as is the need for sustainable energy sources (cough! nuclear fusion!) and economical production of fresh drinking water. These are all areas that are going to require people who are well-trained in the natural sciences.
I also want to emphasize that it isn't just natural sciences that are critical. The social sciences and arts and humanities are also a critical part of higher education, as people graduating from college need to understand the human element of the work that they are doing. So, I feel very strongly that a strong and broad liberal arts education best prepares someone to address and meet the future challenges facing society going forward. As an example, I always tell my students that they could come up with the most brilliant scientific discovery or engineering development in the history of civilization, but it will be completely worthless if they are unable to communicate their ideas to other people.
Tom Solomon: I think that that would depend strongly on the particular student and what they had done at college. As I mentioned above, I think it is important for a person to have a broad education. Of course, I deal mostly with STEM students (being a member of the Department of Physics and Astronomy), but I always strongly encourage them to take courses in other fields as well.
If a graduate is taking a gap year, my recommendation would be to use that gap year to fill in any gaps. For instance, we have some students who discover late in their college career what it is that they want to do after graduation, and a gap year can be helpful to fill in any needed background. For instance, if someone decides late in their college career to go into medicine, they might need a few more chemistry or biology courses. If a student has completed a rigorous STEM education in college, they might benefit from a gap year that emphasizes working with people, e.g., teaching for a year, working abroad, or even doing an internship on policy. On that last note, I had a student who had majored in physics and chemistry, but she wasn't sure what she wanted to do post graduation. She took a job with a science policy think tank in Washington, D.C. She enjoyed that work, but left after a year or two and decided to pursue a Ph.D. in physics. She is now at Lincoln Labs working on quantum computers.
A gap year can also be useful for someone to try out a particular field before making the commitment to pursue postgraduate degrees; for example, spending a year in a lab before going on to graduate school. I have had several students pursue that route as well.
Tom Solomon: This one is pretty obvious - pursue your passions. It is more important to pursue a career in a field that inspires you than to focus on salaries. You will always be more successful if you are engaged in what you are doing. It's also important to realize that even in the "ideal" job, you won't always enjoy everything that you are doing, but if you enjoy the basic work that you are doing, you will be able to get through the more difficult moments as well.
Also, never underestimate the importance of writing and oral communication. Everyone needs to be able to communicate their ideas to other people.
Be patient. Sometimes it takes a while to find the best fit for you.
William K. Kroen Ph.D.: I work little with Delaware businesses, so pandemic-induced changes in jobs might elude me. However, some fields such as pharmaceuticals will certainly be doing well, while others such as outpatient physical therapy clinics might not. It is also likely that all geographic areas of the country are not affected equally.
William K. Kroen Ph.D.: Internships and "real world" research experiences always stand out for employers and graduate schools; that's one of the major reasons that Delaware has a vibrant summer research network. Unfortunately, many of these experiences were closed last summer due to the pandemic. Who knows about June 2021.
William K. Kroen Ph.D.: I know of no specific geographic areas. Our recent graduates have found jobs and gone to graduate schools mainly in the Mid-Atlantic region.
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences
Mary Yu Danico Ph.D.: Based on studies shared by our College of Business Dean Erik Rolland, I think that the trend is an increased interest in data analytics and data gathering. While folks may think of computer science majors for this, the reality is that those who study in sociology or other social sciences are well equipped to tackle the technical and to understand social behavior during pandemics. The framing and contextual analysis are best conducted by social scientists.
Another is versatile communication skills. Millennials and GenZ are skilled in navigating the virtual environment. Still, not all of them understand how to communicate for work as it differs significantly from "chatting" or texting. The foundation of learning for social science students is based on understanding the micro to macro elements that impact the way people interpret information. The global and cultural competencies are so important, and understanding that folks are not a monolithic group is critical to ensuring that communication works.
Mary Yu Danico Ph.D.: It depends on the graduate. If someone does not have to worry about the economic reality of paying their bills, I would say that volunteering and gaining opportunities where they give back is always wonderful. Get out of your comfort zone, meet new people, support underserved communities, and learn from them. For students who may not have that privilege, I would encourage them to find work that has meaning and purpose for them. The ideas of passion and happiness are a bit overrated as passion and happiness can be in flux. I'd try to find your core value or sense of purpose, and talk to mentors, elders, and peers about their careers and their life's journey.
If there is a career that you are interested in, then look at a job description with the minimum qualifications and ask yourself if you meet them. If you are missing some things, you can also take some courses to gain more knowledge which will showcase your confidence when you apply. There are also lots of great virtual internships outs there. InterTrend Communications has a wonderful summer paid internship open to all majors, and they love our social science majors. In fact, when I was an advertising educational fellow, many large ad marketing firms said that they loved sociology and psychology students because they have a better foundation of learning about human behavior. In the era of "woke" culture or "cancel" culture, it is really important to have a critical race framework. I would also encourage you to read books for enjoyment and fun. Explore the outdoors. Try to meet people with shared interests.
Mary Yu Danico Ph.D.: I'm excited for all new graduates. I would say don't be afraid to fail. Take calculated risks, and if you are thinking of doing something that is completely outside of your bachelor's degree, go for it. The best success story I have is from a former psychology major who told me that he wanted to pursue culinary school. He was 22 and was considering next steps. I said then, and I still say, "You will be working for the rest of your life. Why not explore an area that you are really excited about?" Now, he is chef de cuisine at one of the most prestigious restaurants in the United States! He tells me that psychology comes in really handy! So don't be afraid to try new things, meet new people, and stay in touch with your professors and peers.