September 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.
Austin Community College
Grace Christian University
Missouri State University
University of Minnesota
University of Missouri
Notre Dame de Namur University
National Organization for Human Services
National Organization for Human Services
Metropolitan State University of Denver
California University of Pennsylvania
Human Service Department
Monica Burney: Human Service professionals are glad to see skills such as grant writing, new presentation and database technology, a strong background in diversity/equity training when hiring. They also feel more confident about candidates with prior experience in internships or jobs that involve direct contact with clients and professional communication.
Monica Burney: Skilled Human Services professionals demonstrate strong self-awareness and are quick to reflect on how their interactions affect others. They also establish rapport well, ask open-ended questions, and frame conversations with verbal and non-verbal techniques that make people feel comfortable in communication. They are often great collaborators who assess and navigate team dynamics well.
Monica Burney: Effective Human Service professionals have a working knowledge of case management principles and a good understanding of how to apply ecological systems theory to client situations. They also employ professional, effective, and concise documentation. One of the more critical responsibilities currently is to be able to participate in discussions around issues of equity and ethical responsibilities within the agency setting to effectively meet client needs.
Monica Burney: Professionals who have additional certifications, including any technology, language, or clinical training certifications, can sometimes negotiate higher salaries depending on if the agency they are applying to have a unique need for those services. Also, professionals with proven fundraising and/or grant writing experience may have opportunities in non-traditional roles or settings that offer higher salaries.
Austin Community College
Human Services Department
Michelle Kelley Shuler Ph.D.: a. Service to the community such as volunteer work at a food bank or camp counselor for those with physical or mental exceptionalities.
b. Consumer or customer service experience is essential, and experience dealing with the retail industry, food industry, and case management definitely stand out.
Michelle Kelley Shuler Ph.D.: I would refer to this skill set as "essential" and consist of compassion, empathy, teamwork, the ability to listen, a sense of humor, and most importantly, the ability to practice self-care. I include self-care in this list because working in the human service field can be exhausting and emotionally overwhelming. Taking care of ourselves helps to prevent burnout and possibly leaving the profession.
Michelle Kelley Shuler Ph.D.: a. Must have strong basic computer skills and knowledge of software such as excel spreadsheets, google docs, etc. Most, if not all, agencies use electronic health records and treatment planning, so it is necessary to be competent in this area.
b. A degree and additional certifications will assist you in seeking employment. It will also increase your level of competency and diversify the communities you serve. For example, at Austin Community College, we offer our students a chance to complete a certification in Mental Health First Aid Training. This increases their marketability and skill level.
Michelle Kelley Shuler Ph.D.: I would say much of the income level for human service professionals will be based on education. The higher level of education you have, the more you will earn. We encourage all of our students seeking an Associates in Human Services to consider completing at minimum a bachelor's degree.
Scott Shaw Ph.D.: The biggest trends in the current job market include both technical skills and people skills that can be adapted to multiple settings and with a high degree of cultural intelligence (CQ). Many services are adapting to an online, virtual, or personal-delivery format. This has impacted everything from higher education with virtual classes, and telehealth and virtual service delivery models in medical and mental health services, to products ordered online and being delivered to one's doorstep in lieu of large malls and physical stores. Current job applicants must be able to respectfully engage with people from diverse racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, as well as help meet the needs of their communities as a direct reflection of the companies and careers they represent.
I encourage my students to embrace 'comfort being uncomfortable' and always be learning. What appears to be a "hot market" or "best" career option today may not be the same answer next year. Being able to engage with all people respectfully, listen well, and provide innovative solutions in a sensitive way will go a long way in whatever developments come along in the current and future job market. I also encourage those looking for work to review their social media accounts - employers check social media accounts and one's digital footprint can make or break an interview based on what one posts, as well as reveal a great deal about one's character and values. Skills and technical abilities should be as diversified and multidisciplinary as possible; however, one's character and values should consistently tell a single story about the applicant as a person.
Scott Shaw Ph.D.: There is a growing sentiment that generalist knowledge and interdisciplinary education is the way of the future. We are coming out of a "specialist" mindset that previously encouraged students to find their "one thing" or passion. Once the job market shifts (and it will), those with outdated skills find themselves struggling to find their next "one thing." In his New York Times Bestselling book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (2019), David Epstein makes a case for generalist knowledge and the importance of developing several interests in lieu of only having one major focus. I agree with Epstein's thesis and encourage students to consider studying social sciences and interdisciplinary studies, especially if they are unsure what path or major they are interested in. Having time and dedicated focus to explore interests, personal strengths, and areas of development can help university students experience multiple fields of inquiry that will help them in the current ever-changing job market. Having an ability to apply critical thinking and problem solving to finding creative solutions from different perspectives will advance one's career in almost any market.
I also encourage students to take every opportunity to understand other cultures and perspectives. If able to travel (post-pandemic) on a study abroad, live abroad, or take a short-term trip, then by all means do it. It will expand one's worldview and perspective, as well as one's ability to see the humanity in others from different backgrounds. Employers appreciate applicants who can relay experiences engaging people from different backgrounds and display evidence of emotional and cultural intelligence. If unable to travel internationally, then engage with diverse populations locally and learn from books, articles, documentaries and movies that add to one's cultural awareness and sensitivity. Additionally, having foundational knowledge in technology and statistical literacy can go a long way in almost any field. Current job applicants who display familiarity with MS Office, Google Suite or other common applications can apply this knowledge to most career paths. Many skills and certifications are generalizable to other fields and career paths, so it is important to take every opportunity to always be learning and developing one's understanding.
Scott Shaw Ph.D.: The best job out of college is the one that provides an opportunity for learning, development and advancement. There is no one "best job" and anyone can learn something from every experience - employers often ask about experiences and lessons learned in job interviews. With a growth mindset and willingness to work hard, applicants who can demonstrate integrity, critical thinking, cultural intelligence, and drive can take whatever job they obtain and use this opportunity for advancement. Job applicants may find opportunities that do not look quite like they initially envisioned and enjoy the process of finding something new and innovative, as well as discern more clearly what one truly enjoys. Most employers understand that employees will potentially leave or outgrow the job, yet capitalizing on opportunities to learn and serve others in the present can illustrate a great deal about an applicant's character and work ethic.
I had a recent graduate who majored in psychology who had initially planned on a career as a therapist. While in college, she began working for a major retailer and through applying her knowledge of psychology and people skills, advanced in the company. Upon graduating with her psychology degree, she was offered a higher-level executive promotion and actually loved her job, but felt conflicted because she was now in a position to take on more responsibility with a significant pay increase, yet she had studied psychology and felt like she might be 'wasting her education' by not practicing psychology. I encouraged her to consider her values, immediate and long-term goals, yet not be dismissive of the applications of her psychology training. Her engaging with customers from different backgrounds, leading fellow employees and applying critical thinking and leadership that she learned in college were what helped her earn this opportunity. She was using her knowledge and psychology degree every day, even though it did not look like what she had initially envisioned. She later told me she had taken the promotion and was very happily growing into her new role, and now felt confident she was using her degree and what she trained to do. She also acknowledged she could change course if and when she decides.
Dr. Abby Templer Rodrigues Ph.D.: It is quite likely that the pandemic will have lasting effects on the nature and the availability of work. The nature of work will change, with businesses anticipating a permanent shift to telework for a portion of their positions (Handwerker et al. 2020). Telework is heavily utilized in the types of professionalized positions sought by most college graduates. It is also possible that employers will take more active steps to address racism in the workplace given the prominence of the Black Lives Matter Movement. The availability of work will also likely be depressed for a number of years. It took over five years for the labor market to recover after the Great Recession (Handwerker et al. 2020). The occupations hardest hit by the pandemic-related recession include hospitality, tourism, and recreation, health services, professional and business services, trade, arts and entertainment, and education (Handwerker et al. 2020), including higher education (Langin 2020).
Dr. Abby Templer Rodrigues Ph.D.: A good job out of college is one that allows you to continue to grow your skills and abilities and deepen your character. Your degree and existing skills get you in the door, and continual acquisition of skills is required to maintain employment and to advance.
Dr. Abby Templer Rodrigues Ph.D.: Employers look for oral and written communication skills, the ability to work effectively in diverse teams, analytical and quantitative reasoning, and the ability to adapt to new technologies (Ciabattari et al. 2018). Employers specifically prefer college graduates who have experience applying these skills through internships, service learning, senior projects or collaborative research, field projects, or study abroad (Ciabattari et al. 2018).
Ciabattari Teresa, Lowney Kathleen S., Monson Renee A., Senter Mary Scheuer, and Chin
Jeffrey. 2018. "Linking Sociology Majors to Labor Market Success." Teaching Sociology 46 (3): 191-207.
Handwerker, Elizabeth Weber, Peter B. Meyer, and Joseph Piacentini. 2020. "Employment
Recovery in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic." Monthly Labor Review, December, 1-24.
Langin, Katie. 2020. "U.S. faculty job market tanks." Science 370(6514): 272-273.
Department of Human Development and Family Science
Adam Greer: I think the biggest trend we will see are more people working from home/distance. Our HDFS students have quickly learned how to work from home and be as efficient, if not more efficient, than before the pandemic started.
Adam Greer: Clearly, the distance/online working skills will stand out with our HDFS majors. Our students have a strong foundation in learning to work with people, and now they have a new way to work with people and remove barriers that might have previously prevented an in-person meeting.
Adam Greer: Our graduates are finding jobs largely in the government/non-profit/social service industries.
Joyce Serido Ph.D.: The pandemic's economic disruption and the continuing uncertainty are likely to result in employers proceeding with caution, looking for ways to keep overhead as low as possible.
- Regarding where people work: More employers will seek out more flexible and hybrid strategies: Combining remote work and strategic use of in-person working groups
- Employers will be exploring alternative working agreements, limiting the number of full-time positions, expanding the use of contract services, contingent hiring, particularly for specific skills (e.g., technology, social media)
- Candidates who can adapt to changing demands, and have a more diverse skill-set, will be in greater demand
Joyce Serido Ph.D.: If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is the need to be resilient in the face of uncertainty - so seek out opportunities for creative problem solving, be willing to contribute as part of a team. Use this as an apprenticeship period, learn from experienced leaders in areas that interest you, and ask for advice and insight. And stay open to opportunities that emerge. In other words, explore options as you prepare for the next step, be that particular industry or further education. Perhaps the goal for this year is not to have "the answer" - but rather "the next step."
Joyce Serido Ph.D.: Focus on broadening your professional network. Be willing to take on interim /short-term opportunities to get to know people - and to discover how you can contribute to a field, not just a company.
Jacquelyn Benson Ph.D.: This is all conjecture, of course, as career projections aren't my area of expertise; however, speaking about the field of gerontology only, I would imagine career interest and opportunities in healthcare in geriatrics will increase. I also expect to see more gerontology experts hired into companies that want to find ways to serve their older customers better. This trend was already occurring concerning the Baby Boomer cohort. Still, I expect it will continue and that we'll see growing interest in finding ways to serve frail, older adults better.
Jacquelyn Benson Ph.D.: Monitoring systems and televising was already becoming popular. Still, I suspect consumers will be more comfortable using them, now that many families had to start using them during the pandemic, to keep in contact with older family members or to consult with various healthcare practitioners.
Jacquelyn Benson Ph.D.: The demand for gerontology graduates has been on the rise, and I expect demand will continue in the next five years for the reasons cited above.
Dr. Therese Madden: Accomplishments stand out on resumes. Not just classes are taken or previous jobs held, but a listing of what a student has accomplished. For this reason, I love to see resumes that are backed by e-portfolios. These give students a chance to elaborate on their resumes; explain, for example, that their capstone class was more than another grade, but that it encompassed a detailed project plan that they carefully executed so that it matched the needs of the organization that they were working with and that it included measurable outcomes. That way, it is more than another grade, however excellent, more than volunteer hours, but a list of measurable outcomes that can be reflected on a resume and in more narrative descriptions of what someone brings to the job.
Dr. Therese Madden: Technology will have a serious impact on human services, allowing both providers and clients to have more control, better ways of communicating, better ways of individualized services to help each other grow and serve. I think we have seen it already during the pandemic, with tech providing the support to reach out when being physically in proximity to one another is inadvisable. Once the pandemic is over, combining what we've learned through tech solutions with more traditional hands-on approaches will allow us to serve clients in better and more personal ways.
Dr. Therese Madden: I think that every industry will see enduring changes, some good and some challenging. I think that the enduring legacy of this pandemic - once we are past the sadness and uncertainty - will be a celebration of innovation and a commitment to build on the new ways of working in ways that help others. Helping others is the essence of the human services profession, and finding new ways of doing so suggests an exciting future that will draw more interest in the field.
National Organization for Human Services
Dr. Rikki Gilmore-Byrd: The world, and specifically the country, has been in a state of uncertainty for the past year. Crises will always be a part of our lives, and the management of the crisis can often be challenging for individuals to navigate themselves. Human Services is an umbrella term that is focused on helping and supporting humans. One of the most important attributes of those that work in the field of Human Services is empathy.
It is impossible for a computer, even those that are built with artificial intelligence, to accurately support clients with empathy. Therefore, people will always be required to provide that support. Social and human service assistants provide client services in a variety of fields, such as psychology, rehabilitation, and social work. This is a field that will continue to grow and emerge to support people in our communities. People are becoming more and more culturally diverse, which provides a need for more human services practitioners that are culturally diverse to support diverse clients. All types of new job opportunities are likely to emerge in the future.
Division of Education and Human Services
Stephanie Budhai Ph.D.: In addition to having a firm grasp of content knowledge, young graduates will need to have mastered several soft skills, including working collaboratively with related services personnel (OTs, PTs, Social Workers, Counselors, ABA Therapist, etc.), while also being autonomous and able to complete work associated tasks independently. With the push to remote teaching and learning and the increase in online education, there will not be an administrator's traditional presence watching the classrooms.
However, it is still an expectation to connect with colleagues within professional learning communities to ensure that each students' IEP goals are being met. Young graduates need to effectively communicate their thoughts and ideas and actively listen to others for understanding. Finally, young graduates need to be flexible and willing to adapt to the environment and uncontrollable factors continually.
Stephanie Budhai Ph.D.: There are so many opportunities, all across the country, for a career in special education. In addition to being a special education teacher in a school setting, hospitals, social service agencies, and public service agencies all need trained professionals to support and help develop those with disabilities and learning challenges. Business and government agencies may hire trained special educators as they may have employees who may identify as neurodiverse. There are also employment options working with adjudicated youth and the prison system as an outstanding educator and intervention specialist.
Stephanie Budhai Ph.D.: Technology will impact the field of special education tremendously within the next five years. Assistive technology, which has always been a core resource within the area, will continue to advance all learners' opportunities to access the general education curriculum and be included in education settings. Artificial intelligence and augmented reality will have an impact on how students learn and experience content. Technology will also afford more opportunities for one-on-one and small group training using video conferencing and deeper connections with families. It will help bridge the gap between learning at school and home.
Donald Spears: The human services field is vital to society and is growing tremendously. Human service professionals will likely be presented with new challenges as the Baby Boomers continue to age, live longer, and remain active later than previous generations. Other pressing issues include the continuing national opioid epidemic, helping people with autism meet their potential, and supporting families as loved ones are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. There are other large-scale issues that are just as crucial, such as health care access and affordability, poverty, and social justice. Many people think of human services as being primarily face-to-face work with a client, which is often the case, but human service professionals also work on state and national levels, which is essential to creating a more fair and just society.
Donald Spears: Human service professionals will be in demand in nearly all settings. Large cities, of course, will need services, but so will individuals in more rural communities. Future human service professionals will need to be adaptable, and able to work with an increasingly diverse population. Being bi-lingual (English and Spanish) will be a tremendous advantage. Even if students plan to work as generalists, coursework and mentorship in working with substance use disorders will be very helpful. Although one may not plan on specializing in addictions, it will be a contributing factor in multiple client scenarios. Helping a client to find housing and employment will not provide a long-lasting solution if there are underlying addiction issues. Earning a certificate in addictions, along with your degree(s), will make you more in demand and more effective in working with clients.
Donald Spears: Human service professionals are now starting to be embedded with police in order to help provide non-violent de-escalation of conflict, services to the mentally ill or developmentally disabled, people with dementia, and those with addictions. This allows for fewer arrests, less violent interactions with law enforcement personnel, and the treatment of non-violent citizens within the community, rather than in jail or prison.
Dr. Lynann “Annie” Butler: In my experience, employers like to see real-world experience on a resume (not just book-learning). I've had some students who earned jobs at highly competitive sites over people with more experience because they worked at the site as an intern, and when the time came to interview for a job opening, the hiring personnel at the agency was already familiar with the student's work ethic.
Dr. Lynann “Annie” Butler: Gap years are good opportunities to get a job in the field of interest. Having some professional experience helps people decide in what field, exactly, they want to earn a master's degree, or can help students to save money and focus their energies if returning to complete their bachelor's degree.
Dr. Lynann “Annie” Butler: Finally, it seems that skills in all things telehealth will be invaluable for students moving forward.
Dr. Joseph Constantine Ph.D.: While adaptability has always been heralded as the key predictor of employment success in the future, rapid changes in the social and economic landscape also bring with them an increased need for more traditional skills such as building relationships, understanding specific community needs, networking with other professionals, and advocating for more intensive treatment protocols.
Dr. Joseph Constantine Ph.D.: Florida, California, and New Mexico will continue to be hot markets for speech-language pathologists. The Midwest U.S. is also expected to see an increased demand for licensed and certified professionals.
Dr. Joseph Constantine Ph.D.: More than ever, graduates will need to be able to balance the technological components of work with a high-level of emotional intelligence in order to swiftly make smart decisions that support better outcomes for clients/patients, families, and other stakeholders. Moreover, the most successful therapists will find ways of using high-level, new technologies with good, old-fashioned introspection, self-awareness, and down-to-earth perspectives about what is most important in the job.