February 20, 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.
Kansas City Art Institute
Wayne State University
University of Oklahoma
Saint Xavier University
University of Findlay
University of Missouri - Columbia
YKMD Visual Communication
Benjamin Ivey: The enduring impact the pandemic will have on recent graduates will be a reliance on teleconferencing and online visual communication. Before coronavirus, we were accustomed to meeting "in person" for classes, interviews, and conferences. We only needed to be online for email, social media, and the occasional video. Now, it's the new norm for all classes and group meetings to have an online component. Employers are expecting to see portfolios and resumes online. Meeting in-person for your first job interview will be outmoded in favor of meeting via FaceTime or Zoom. Since many recent graduates are savvy with this technology, I don't foresee the trend changing anytime soon. People have quickly and readily embraced it.
Benjamin Ivey: Employers want to know that you are a good problem solver. New software, social media platforms, and computers are always coming down the pipe, so younger generations are expected to understand those needs and trends. If you are the kind of employee who can suggest better/faster/cheaper ways of working, then you are a golden investment for any company.
Benjamin Ivey: The best experiences that stand out to me are when students put projects or hobbies to teach themselves a skill. School can only give you so much education. But when students take the initiative to learn something outside of class, they are taking their education. This shows me they are trainable and motivated. If a student says, "I taught myself how to 3D print", "I designed this web app for fun," or even "I like to fix old cars on the weekend, "... these are things that show you are a life-long learner and it often separates you from the crowd. I've heard many success stories from my former students who go for job offers simply because they put one or two personal projects like this into their portfolio and resume.
Kansas City Art Institute
John Ferry: I believe so - how can we have something this significant happen and not have it affect our lives in a noticeable way. I actually think there are advantages to having this happen . . . If you look for the positives you'll find them . . . if you look for the negatives you'll find them . . . I can't speculate on what that impact will be - but, we'll all be impacted, Professors and Students. At the very least we are all a lot more familiar with how to navigate virtual meetings.
John Ferry: The most important skill is in my opinion, age old - a solid work ethic. . . I recommend reading Steven Pressfild's "Turning Pro", It really provides a lot of insight on how to think like a professional - it even defines professionals in other ways than just collecting payment for your work. Setting a routine is also important - making sure your work gets done and you are continuing to practice and grow your skills. Research publications and art directors that you'd like to work for. . . Also, our graduates won't enter just one cookie cutter workforce. In the past we've had students work at Hallmark Cards Inc. At local advertising agencies like C3 and Sprint. We've had students apprentice and go into tattooing. . . others have gone the gallery/fine art approach. . . a few go on to graduate school. . . as you can see the students will have to tailor their skills towards what interests them creatively.
It's not necessarily experience, but I think it's important to set up a website and be sure they are utilizing social media. . . One frustration I have is that too many students use crazy names on their Instagram media, not their own name. . . it makes them look unprofessional, and makes it harder on them not only to be taken seriously - but confusing on what to call them and where to see their website.
John Ferry: I think for a student that internships really stand out. Showing you've worked for an agency or freelance artist and received payment for this experience. It shows you can work with other people and demonstrate some professional experience. At Kansas City Art Institute, where I teach in the Illustration Department, we require all students to take either an internship or mentorship.
I also think showing published work is important. One internship that used to be available in the past was at The Kansas City Star Newspaper. The students were able to do weekly illustrations featured in their publication. It gave them an excellent opportunity to work with art directors, illustrate a concept and work on their portfolio.
Wayne State University
Maria Bologna: Biggest trend is recent grads are no longer limited to their location for work (studios and companies all around the world are now offering fully remote positions).
Maria Bologna: Highly sought after skills that employers are looking for related to interactivity (motion graphics, animation, video editing)
Maria Bologna: There are often overlooked positions available as an in-house designer at various companies (from hospitals and architecture firms to breweries and municipal offices).
Tess Elliot: We've already seen great investment in technology and digital media in all sectors of the job market and I see this trend continuing.
Tess Elliot: An art graduate should always follow their passion and enhance skills they are drawn to. A painter should simply continue painting if that is their passion. Artists often don't fit neatly into a defined career path. Keep making art if you need a gap year, keep working on your portfolio, and reach out to your professors, they will continue to support you.
Tess Elliot: Stay true to yourself. Be patient and have confidence in yourself and your work. Artists early in their careers often don't make money from their work. This is okay. Find a way to support yourself while continuing to make and share your work and things will fall into place. Seek out that unique path to career fulfillment.
Saint Xavier University
Art and Design Department
Cathie Ruggie Saunders: Yes, absolutely. Events of this caliber become imprinted memories that never go away. All a student will have to say is that they are a graduate of 2020, and everyone will know what that means. A collective consciousness of the nightmare kind. But aside from the abrupt goodbyes they were forced to do were the myriad of opportunities lost. So many of Saint Xavier University's graduates are first-generation. Not only were they looking forward to their graduation, but their parents were, since the parents were not able to do it themselves. And on a larger theatre, they are graduating into a world barely recognizable, despite the fact that they have been exposed, in their lifetime, to 9/11, school shootings, drastic climate change, systemic racism and more. Now, a global health crisis that has affected every facet of life as we knew it.
Cathie Ruggie Saunders: Young graduates will need optimism. Belief that they can make a difference in this world. And the determination to try to do so. They are already adept at technology, but they will also need social skills beyond the range of Zoom courtesies. They must find ways to incorporate empathy, understanding, and recognition of the immense value of human touch in their interactions.
Cathie Ruggie Saunders: Experiences that stand out on resumes include ones that challenge the student beyond their known capabilities. Experiences that acquaint them with diverse modes of seeing, thinking, collaborating. Travel opens their perspectives and calls upon them to dig deep within themselves to find solutions to problems they have never encountered before. Internships are the usual, but not the only. In my youth, I spent a summer on an archeological expedition, literally digging up artifacts from previous civilizations and trying to piece together their culture, in hopes of understanding mine better. My daughters spent a summer working at a World Bird Sanctuary, rehabilitating birds of prey and raptors, learning captive breeding, and for educational outreach, carrying 12-foot long snakes for children's viewing on school field trips. It can be anything that you have never done before, or thought you could never do. Because that demonstrates your courage and resilience. And that is needed to succeed.
Victoria Szabo Ph.D.: There are two areas. The first is that we are seeing more and more people working remotely, which means effective ways to connect. The pandemic might mean that the move to the gig economy is accelerated but also that "talent" can cross state and international borders more easily. However, people will still need to organize and share their work in online organizations and structures. Therefore I see a need for collaboration tools and systems that also integrate content management and project collaboration more actively. We already rely on shared document and spreadsheet authoring in our daily work. More robust organizational, tagging, and discovery systems for shared resources will be a must. This might take the form of image archives, 3D models, and even virtual world environments. Data analysis and visualization will continue to be important parts of the puzzle as will increasingly automated, AI-supported discovery environments. The second is an acceleration in the trend towards extended reality. We are already seeing a renaissance of interest in virtual reality systems. The convergence of social media, virtual reality, and conferencing tools will accelerate - maybe also with some gamification elements, for better or for worse. Once people are out and about, this might transition more into augmented- and mixed-reality environments, but the need for the data substrate will remain.
Victoria Szabo Ph.D.: Aside from some experience with some basic coding packages and systems (think Python, R, and web frameworks), I would say that experience with project management, success in working on team-based projects, and the ability to demonstrate growth and development over time are the most important. Sophisticated understanding of search algorithms, metadata standards, and user tracking would also help.
Victoria Szabo Ph.D.: Information science training offers opportunities in lots of sectors. You can go into IT management or support, data analyst positions in industry, work web development, database design, user instruction, or systems administration in libraries and archives. You could also get into data journalism, educational administration, or human resources - the needs are everywhere.
School of Nursing, College of Arts and Sciences
Carol Anne Ketelsen: The biggest trend we have seen through the pandemic is of companies reevaluating how they conduct business. In March, employers were cancelling internships and holding off on hiring. Now employers have figured out how to conduct business remotely and that it does not negatively affect workers' performance. Many employers are expected to make a permanent shift to remote work with some expected to hire staffs of 100 percent virtual workers. This trend requires candidates to be nimble, innovative, solution-oriented, and tech savvy.
Another trend is that companies are struggling to find qualified workers. Early on there was job loss, then many of those jobs recovered. Seasoned workers who were laid off are not returning to their positions for a variety of reasons due to the pandemic. This is good news for new graduates and opens up many opportunities.
Carol Anne Ketelsen: A gap year after you graduate can be beneficial if planned and used wisely. During the pandemic we have seen many universities and companies offer training programs, certifications, and micro-internships. If someone was going to take a gap year, they should plan how they will spend their time and how the activities they engage in will enhance their career goals. An employer will ask why they took the time off, what they did, what they learned, and how that applied to their future.
When it comes to skills, the graduate should use the time to expand their knowledge of their career. What skills are critical for this occupation? What skills does the candidate lack? A gap year is a great opportunity to develop those skills through volunteer opportunities, part-time work experiences, internships, travel, and enhanced learning. A graduate will want to explore the possibilities and determine how those will enhance their chosen career. Additionally, a graduate will want to review the technical skills needed for their field. If you choose to take the gap time, you do not want to fall behind when starting your career search.
Carol Anne Ketelsen: When interviewing for a position remember that you are also interviewing them. As a candidate you need to determine if this company and culture is a fit for you. Although you want that job, be patient, be selective, and be realistic; you don't have to take the very first thing that comes your way. Do your homework on the company, position, and pay. Know your worth, and don't sell yourself short.
Once in the career, be professional. Dress professionally. Talk professionally. Act professionally. Learn the unwritten rules of the organization. Follow the chain of command. Ask the best way to connect with your supervisor. Accept personal responsibility. Share the credit on projects. Collaborate with others, and be a team player. Workplace professionalism is judged by your communication - verbal, nonverbal and written - your image, your competence, and your demeanor.
Anne Beekman: According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected job outlook in Graphic Design is down 4%, with a loss of 10,900 jobs in the next ten years.
For students entering the job market as graphic designers, finding a position may be more difficult, but not necessarily due to Covid. Stay-at-home restrictions may be an advantage for some entry-level graphic designers. They may be able to work from home, not incurring the costs of relocation to a larger city.
This downward trend can be attributed to many things, foremost the movement from print to digital. As many magazines and newspapers cease publishing, there is no longer a need for page layout designers to go to an online format.
However, this trend may also be because those who have an education in graphic design do not report graphic designers. After all, their positions are so much broader; designers may list their occupation as advertising, marketing, social media, website development, technology, and more. Conversely, the availability of easy to use, low-cost design software, stock images, free fonts, and do-it-yourself web builders means that more people who are not graphic designers by profession are doing graphic design.
Anne Beekman: Designers with a broad range of skills- technology, creativity, and communication-with a strong aesthetic will continue to find jobs.
Dr. Julia Gaines: The biggest trends for post-pandemic will be jobs for AV/IT work. The making of videos for just about every profession but including the distribution of music has grown exponentially in the field. I think entrepreneurs who can do this will contract out for music educators/performers everywhere. I think the teaching profession will now be asking, "what is your experience with online instruction delivery?" That will now be a qualification for all teachers, and we, at the university level, will have to do better preparing our teachers for this new education world.
Dr. Julia Gaines: Some experience with AV/IT. It will be necessary to be much more familiar with all platforms devoted to customer and student consumption.
Dr. Julia Gaines: Education is still a top market, and that will be needed in every state. Even private studios have evolved to teaching online, all over the world. The location has now become a bit more irrelevant. As long as you can work with a computer well, you should be able to get a job in the education field. Even international opportunities will be more relevant to students, at this point.
Philip Lindsey: Communication skills, creative and critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, work well independently, and in a team, tech-savvy, broad knowledge (liberal arts) + disciplinary knowledge.
Philip Lindsey: Graphic Design: metropolitan areas. However, graphic design is everywhere, and any company/business that relies on images and text incorporates graphic Design. So the job market is quite broad.
Philip Lindsey: Graphic design has become increasingly tech-oriented. Graduates will need to understand industry-standard software and hardware to be competitive.
Yanique DaCosta: Young design graduates need to have three simple things: portfolio diversity, critical thinking skills, and humility.
A diverse portfolio of various deliverables (print, web, interactive, experiential, etc.) Will give any recent grad a bigger opportunity to break into the market as a professional. Unlike seasoned professionals, recent grads have not had the opportunity to find their design "voice" or identify their niche. It's best to show a range of styles and deliverables until you have enough professional work experience to discern your path forward.
Critical thinking skills, often referred to as design thinking, is an integral part of elevating the design profession as well as building your reputation within it. The design thinking process consists of observation, empathy, problem formulation, solution deduction, testing, alteration, and reiteration. You must be able to use these skills to create design solutions, so your colleagues understand you are not the "pretty color" "Photoshop fixer" person, but an informed research-based problem solver. In implementing design thinking, new grads must seek to understand how their design solutions affect; environmental sustainability, social equity, cultural diversity, inclusivity, public safety, and accessibility.
Even with a great portfolio, supported by detailed design justifications, there is no room for designers that lack humility. We do not design for ourselves; we create to solve problems for those around us. We must be able to remove our feelings about ourselves and create from a human-centric place. Without this, a new grad may find themselves frustrated before they have even started to run the first race.
Yanique DaCosta: Most may refer recent grads to the most notable staffing agencies like Creative Circle, Mondo, or 24Seven or job boards like Behance or Indeed. I prefer to send recent grads down a couple of less crowded paths; professional associations and meetup.com.
Professional organizations, like the Graphic Artists Guild, give recent grads a way to build relationships with industry leaders that will help pave their way to success.
Meetups/Networking events OUTSIDE of the design profession can give recent grads the opportunity to hobnob with company decision-makers that have real influence in the hiring process in a less formal setting.
Yanique DaCosta: The field of design has already found itself creating digitally dominant solutions. In the next five years, the demand for designers with competencies in UI/UX and virtual 3D design will continue to increase as we support the needs of our ever-evolving society.