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.
North Dakota State University
University of Pittsburgh
New Mexico State University
Pennsylvania State University
North Carolina State University
George Mason University
The Ohio State University
Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers
North Dakota State University
Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department
Dr. David Grewell Ph.D.: The resume of an IE will detail the ability to solve problems and optimize processes for a broad range of industries, including healthcare, transportation, financial, entertainment, manufacturing, and human resources. These skills are further highlighted by the fact that the IE curriculum includes aspects of business management.
Dr. David Grewell Ph.D.: Communication, problem-solving abilities, leadership, and organizational skills are all key in allowing IE's to be successful in the workplace and to build teams that can collaborate and adapt to unexpected changes, challenges, and setbacks in the workplace. These skills also help them to leverage the resources to solve problems quickly with low costs allowing them to move on to the next challenge facing the world today in today's complex economy, in particular when facing a pandemic.
Dr. David Grewell Ph.D.: An IE must be able to break down complex problems into manageable issues and provide solutions for these problems that face the world in today's complex interconnected systems. A background in statistics, design and analysis, process management, and a strong foundation in the engineering disciplines make this possible.
Dr. David Grewell Ph.D.: Good communication and leadership skills that are embedded in their curriculum enable IE's to quickly move up the corporate ladder and become the CEO of the nation's leading companies.
Karen Bursic Ph.D.: More and more companies are realizing that many of the things that people do can be done just as effectively at home. I think this is particularly true for many of the things that IEs do...from data analytics to building optimization models to engineering economic analysis. So students don't always have to limit their job searches to a particular geographic region given personals situations and companies have bigger candidate pools for many positions. In addition, IEs typically graduate with plenty of experience in communicating their work in multiple ways including using online platforms. Working at home also means job candidates need strong professional and ethical skills which we often integrate into our IE coursework and many of our students learn via our cooperative education program.
Karen Bursic Ph.D.: Right now, the Lean Six Sigma certifications as well as certifications or coursework in Supply Chain Management.
Karen Bursic Ph.D.: This is one area I am really not an expert in although every time I check out entry level salaries for IEs in the Pittsburgh area (which I often cite in student recruitment efforts and look up at least twice a year), I see a steady increase.
Edward Pines Ph.D.: I believe there will be long-term changes in the job market but mostly in the way students will work when they get a job. Remote work is here to stay for many engineers. Commuting to work and all the lifestyle activities that go with commuting to work will continue to decrease. Developing communication skills and developing teaming skills will become even more important for students and new graduates. As the technology improves, it will likely seem more like traveling to meet with colleagues in other locations. Recruiting will change as well so it will be helpful for students to learn how that area evolves.
Edward Pines Ph.D.: I like to say a good job is the one that gets you ready for the next job and beyond in your career path. And, even a job that's not ideal can provide a lot of learning. A lot of my job these days is working with student entrepreneurs and some of them are seeking corporate or government sector employment first to develop industry knowledge and experience before developing an entrepreneurial idea. Many engineers learn more about themselves and their interests in their first job. They can develop their social and communication skills at the same time.
Edward Pines Ph.D.: Self-directed learning, communications-written and oral, and teaming are critical skills no matter your technical area. In the industrial engineering world, there is a wide range of interests. Industrial engineers might seek careers in area such manufacturing or supply chain or operations research or ergonomics, and in multiple business sectors. So, consider your skills as applied in your area of interest. Statistics and data science are critical no matter where one works in an industrial engineering role. Selling your ideas to stakeholders is a skill that will help you market your technical skills where you work and beyond.
Tracy Farrell: I believe there will be an enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic on graduates. Positively, they are now prepared to work in a variety of work environments: in-person, hybrid, and remote only. Navigating the changing schedules and technologies have put graduates at an advantage.
Negatively, some graduates may not have adjusted well to hybrid or remote only learning; therefore, putting them at a disadvantage to be able to adjust easily and successfully to managing time and organizing their "work space" to be productive in hybrid or remote only environments. These graduates will need to improve time management and organizational skills in order to be successful.
Tracy Farrell: A "good" job out of college, in my opinion, is an entry-level position with a company that provides advancement. I would recommend that if graduates did not take advantage of internship opportunities, early and often, they will be at a disadvantage to "think they know it all" and have proven not to be as successful. Entry positions offer valuable training and teach transferable skills that can only be gained in entry-level positions (or internships) like communication skills, time management, organization, teamwork, aspects of all positions.
I strongly recommend that a graduate start interning well before they graduate. Internships can serve as "entry-level positions" providing opportunities for learning, growth, and hands-on experience they would not have otherwise. NYS high school business education programs have been offering internships for years, for credit, and many students do not take advantage of these programs.
Tracy Farrell: Technical skills that employers are seeking include "real" computer skills like Microsoft Office Suite tools, proper communication skills via email and website development and postings, developing proper document format that is appropriate to send to stakeholders (i.e., letter formatting, report writing, email formatting); strong communication skills that include speaking professionally and respectfully to stakeholders as well as writing professionally (i.e., making eye contact when speaking, proper handshake, respectful dialogue including questioning); project management - knowing how to organize work and develop a timeline that includes who will be responsible for what and follow through; data analysis - being able to not only present data in an organized and understandable manner; but, be able to interpret data correctly offering the justification behind what they are interpreting and why.
Respectfully, today's graduates do not understand that being able to text and use social media does not prepare them for "real" computer skills. Many students that I have in high school and in college do not have proper writing skills, document formatting skills, or document management skills to know how to save documents properly and where to save to.
Scott Grasman Ph.D.: Hybrid and virtual learning can be effective, but students may lack hands-on experiences in some cases. Graduates from programs that complement instruction with co-op education, and/or have been effective in creating virtual laboratories, will be more successful.
Perhaps more importantly, social dynamics have changed significantly. Students have fewer opportunities to learn from other students or to have meaningful interactions with faculty, which may cause lack of motivation or poor mentoring.
Graduates, however, may benefit from technology changes being implemented in traditional classrooms. As graduates progress in their careers they will likely pursue additional educational opportunities, many in the hybrid or virtual environment with which they have become familiar.
Scott Grasman Ph.D.: Many surveys have highlighted the need for soft skills: listening, communication, etc. Beyond that, graduates should enter the workforce with a curiosity to seek out and solve problems, to look for mentorship, and not be afraid to take on new challenges.
The working environment is always changing so graduates will need the ability to adapt and to learn new skills. It often gets overlooked but graduates must have valuable technical skill or they will be left out.
Scott Grasman Ph.D.: Graduates that have applied their classroom learning to real work experiences will differentiate themselves from others. Showing that you have particular skills, perhaps through certifications, and highlighting your specific abilities through tangible examples is critical.
In addition to a resume, students could create a portfolio of items that demonstrates their knowledge and ability.
Charles Purdum: Candidates looking for companies who are effectively managing this uncertain business environment with creativity and diverse mindset to take advantage of students who love a fun, challenging environment.
Charles Purdum: Certification, certification, certifications! Lean or Six Sigma green belt (e.g., ASQ.com), project management (e.g., PMI.com), and leadership skills.
Charles Purdum: Make sure you consider the company culture, management style, and how they treat individuals. It's not all about the money!
Dr. Kanton Reynolds Ph.D.: In addition to the transformation into remote work, I think you will see more companies hiring consultants. This unprecedented time has allowed companies to realize that they can reconceptualize the way they do business. They can be more agile while realizing operational efficiencies that correspond well with the prevailing environment. They will lean on experts to help them recognize the value proposition in transforming their business models. You will see more companies rely on consultants as they move to new paradigms and streamline their operations. They will also want to leverage this contingent group of experts to maximize these transformation opportunities before bringing in additional talent.
Dr. Kanton Reynolds Ph.D.: Today's graduates have to be prepared for the dynamically changing society and the corresponding work environment. With that in mind, they should be proactively engaging in continuous learning so that they can be prepared for the next evolution or disruption in technology. In this case, anything that can enhance data science or data analysis skills is going to be important. Companies now have vast new sources of data to evaluate in making decisions on trends, customer insights, business intelligence, and forecasting. It will be imperative to have a functional understanding of how to navigate this space. In addition, this pandemic has taught us new ways to interact, learn, and collaborate. Learning a new language to help facilitate global business opportunities will certainly be helpful. An increasing number of our students minor in Spanish, participate in study abroad opportunities, and increasingly seek global Internships to hone their skills in this particular area.
Dr. Kanton Reynolds Ph.D.: These are unusual times, so they require unusual responses to the prevailing circumstances. Think about other types of careers that do not necessarily align fully with how you envisioned leveraging your major in the workforce. For example, engineers may need to look at careers in services instead of design or development. Also, do not discount industries that are fundamental to our society like consumer-packaged goods as potential career options. Lastly, always seek ways to expand your skills and career footprint. Do not allow yourself to be siloed in a role or function that prevents you from responding to shifts in the marketplace with a corresponding skill set.
George Mason University
Dr. Lance Sherry Ph.D.: No. The need for engineering will continue to grow.
Engineers built the systems that created global warming. What were we thinking? That the atmosphere, waterways, and oceans were infinite sinks and could absorb all the water generated by our systems? Now, the engineers have to design us out of the corner we have painted ourselves into.
Dr. Lance Sherry Ph.D.: Critical thinking - don't take things for granted. Instrumentalize the process, and collect the performance data. Analyse the data, and test hypotheses. Once the problem and issue are understood, then, and only then, develop a solution.
Too many times we rush in with a technology solution that does not really solve the problem.
Also go and listen to the stakeholders. Understand their perspectives and account for these perspectives in the design solution.
Too many times we rush in with a technology solution that causes more problems than it solves because we have not truly understood the perspectives of the stakeholders.
Dr. Lance Sherry Ph.D.: Projects: capstone projects and summer intern projects. Not busy work but intellectual work that shows you can design, build, and test a system. This shows that the candidate really understands what it takes to do work in the real world, that the graduate can persevere, and that the graduate can overcome obstacles.
Srinivas R. Chakravarthy Ph.D.: Having an internship or even better co-op experience (like Kettering graduates) goes a long way. This is true for any engineering discipline but more so for Industrial Engineers. While specific engineering programs, such as Chemical, Electrical, and Mechanical are well-understood by a common person (based on the names associated with these programs), the same cannot be said about Industrial Engineering. However, if one looks at what industrial engineers do, it will be very clear that they are indeed the backbone for continuous improvement in our day-to-day activities. They work with other engineers, as well as management, and offer ways to improve the products and processes that they are associated with. At the end of the day, the graduates in IE improve the lives of people in one form or the other. A great profession to be in. Thus, having co-op experience gives them a head-start as compared to the others.
Srinivas R. Chakravarthy Ph.D.: Technology is changing every second, and all of us need to adapt to the situations presented. Recent COVID situation has shown that, if only proper data collection and analysis were done, from almost the minute the virus spread was noticed, things would probably be different. This leads to my answer to this question as follows. Technology will enable superfast computing capabilities making Data Analytic and AI to be even more effective in almost all fields, moreso in IE. This is due to the fact data is one of the key ingredients for the IE profession. The faster the data is analyzed, the quicker the decisions will be offered to the management. The reaction time is very critical for the manufacturing and service sectors. Another major development to be seen is in self-driving vehicles (either for personal use or for commercial use), which require data analysis on a different scale, as a small delay in feedback to the system will cause a tremendous cost to the service provider. So IE graduates will step up to the plate in devising schemes working with other engineers and management people.
Srinivas R. Chakravarthy Ph.D.: Yes, without a doubt. The impact will be both positive and negative. The negatives, unfortunately, would be the (lack of) confidence in the depth and level of the materials learned during (mostly) virtual classes. Virtual classes, as is known, involve different mentality and approach in the learning process. Not all students/faculty are on the same page with regard to the absorption/coverage of the materials. This might have some consequences, initially, but eventually will fade off. So, hopefully, nothing to be overly concerned about. Another negative aspect is, in some courses, hands-on experience has been replaced with videos, and it might take additional time for the graduates to get that knowledge, should that become crucial in their workplace.
With regard to the positive impact of Covid (no pun intended), IEs, with a special background in logistics and supply chain areas will be able to offer solutions. To distribute the millions and millions of vaccines to hospitals, pharmacists, and other service providers to inoculate the citizens across the globe is a real challenge and requires modeling/simulation and strategies. IEs will have to face the challenges and opportunities, and to lead groups of various engineers and scientists across a wide spectrum.
Theodore T. Allen Ph.D.: The biggest trend is that people are really using optimization. Yet, they are doing it at a large scale and with words often not associated with IEOR. We will see continued use of IE techniques but with more emphasis on those methods associated with Artificial Intelligence and meta-heuristics. The obsession of the research community with rigorous solution methods and aversion to meta-heuristics is foolish. Meta-heuristics work! Also, the skills for rigorous modeling can position developers well in meta-heuristic development for specific applications.
Other key trends include wider use of image analysis methods and that Industry Internet of Things (IIOT) approaches are entering widespread use. These topics are too important to be left to computer scientists alone. Our digital twin simulations and optimization models are critical. Further, there may be an important link between IIOT and augmented reality and human factors. People will start to see exactly how they and their devices are getting sick/worn and how to heal/repair them much more clearly.
Theodore T. Allen Ph.D.: The IIOT methods mean that people are entering factories and other production systems with much better knowledge of causes and effects and possibilities for system modeling and optimization. We, at the Ohio State University, are investing a lot of time training ourselves in PTC Thingworx, Microsoft Power BI, Siemens Mindsphere, and other enablers of IIOT. These platforms enable vastly more streamlined workflows and permit many more people to see the optimization and modeling needs more clearly.
Theodore T. Allen Ph.D.: I am bullish on the next five years for IE graduates. I see those who apply disciplined decision processes, statistics, optimization, and AI methods with an entrepreneurial mindset will become key enablers. It is amazing to me how many different types of industries seem to be longing for data-driven decision-making and how many key world issues we can help with. Personally, I move from pipeline inspection to election systems improvement, to automotive manufacturing, to air filtration methods, to try to educate and energize voters on a typical day.
Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers
James Swisher: It's truly an exciting time to be an Industrial and Systems Engineer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects demand for ISEs to grow by 10% over the next ten years, which is much faster than the rate for all occupations. Firms across a broad range of industries will continue to focus on the skills that ISEs bring to improve efficiencies, enhance quality, and lower costs. In addition, ISEs bring skills in the related fields of big data, artificial intelligence, and project management that make them extremely valuable to organizations. ISEs ability to quickly make an impact in an organization also means that their potential for promotion is very good. It's a great profession to be in.