March 22, 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.
Southeastern Louisiana University
University of Mount Union
Cal State LA
Southeastern Louisiana University
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Illinois State University
Southeastern Louisiana University
Dr. Rebecca Tuxhorn: I cannot see how there will not be an enduring impact of the pandemic on anyone, and especially graduates. The job market is in a bit of a flux with remote work in many jobs (among other changes happening) and I believe that will require even more flexibility and the need to focus on adaptability as we move forward. Graduates will want to emphasize their ability to work independently while remaining reliable and dependable, particularly for potential jobs where a 'boss' will not be ever-present in a physical space. If I were a graduate applying for jobs, I would want to highlight my experience that supports this. Due to the movement of so many aspects of work environments to online formats, graduates will also want to emphasize their tech-savvy strengths (and work on their tech weaknesses)!
Dr. Rebecca Tuxhorn: If a graduate accepts a job working remotely, I think it will be helpful to make sure they have a space carved out of their living space that is devoted to work - as separate as possible in the space they have. Research prior to the pandemic has revealed that work fatigue for those carrying their work into their home space was becoming more detrimental to mental health, and now we do not have that physical separation which makes the carry-over that much more prevalent! It will be even more important to remain disciplined and focused without the physical space of the work environment to keep you on track. Being in the home may seem like an invitation to take work responsibilities less seriously, but especially for graduates starting new jobs this attitude would be very detrimental to the perception of how talented and capable you really are! If you are a sociology graduate moving into teaching and you are teaching remotely, you'll need to put in some extra time making yourself familiar with the learning management system being utilized by your university. Due to many of the restrictions in place, training may not be as available as it was prior to the pandemic. Whatever your situation, network with others as much as you can to get the lay of the land, and be sure to ask questions if you are unsure about exactly what is expected of you in your new work environment!
University of Mount Union
Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice
Aaron Howell Ph.D.: Yes, it will have an enduring impact. Some of this will be social psychological and shared with all the other generations that lived through the pandemic. There will be much to be written and said, for many years, on the consequences for everyone, regardless of age. As far as graduates and their prospects in the labor market, it may be uneven. A characteristic of the economy has been to increasingly deliver stratified outcomes for people in adulthood, some being more comfortable, others being more of struggle. The good thing is, the college degree dramatically increases someone's ability to end up more on the comfortable side, than the struggling side (at least in a narrow economic sense). The specific challenge for graduates, in any field, that they don't have much control over is that some may begin their careers with lower starting salaries, having consequences on long term earnings. Your starting salary is the beginning point and becomes what you 'argue against' when asking for a raise. It's also important when getting a more across the board raise. For example, a 6% raise on 90k is a lot more than it is on 75k. This is all speculation at this point. Economic forecasting is a very difficult thing to do with precision. The reality of the labor market is that it is varied, so for graduates some of the outcomes will depend on discipline or field of study. The value of the degree from a small liberal arts university, such as the one I work at, remains the same. It provides a broad set of skills that give students the writing experience to excel in work worlds that require it, delivers opportunities for training in research if it suits one's field of study, and more broadly trains students to think critically by asking questions, gathering evidence, and forming conclusions. In addition, many college graduates get experience in service learning or community-based collaboration that gives them 'real world' experiences that can be helpful in positions that require these types of relationships.
Aaron Howell Ph.D.: This largely depends on the job, but certainly there are a few shared characteristics across most jobs. First, written and oral communication are essential. The ability to communicate effectively has become even more important for the workforce, as the US labor market has shifted away from production-based work of past generations and into service sector positions. Many college graduates end up as 'knowledge workers', these positions require collaboration and communication to create the innovative outcomes the companies and organizations they are working for desire -- this holds in all kinds of fields, like health care, information technologies, scientific and research based jobs, to name a few. Second, technological skills are essential. Machines -- whether it be a computer or some new robot -- still require human labor, in their creation obviously, but also in their application. Algorithms don't write themselves. That new technology revolutionizing elder care needs a human mediator. Put simply, there will always be human mediation in any field being affected by new technologies. Given that all fields are impacted by technological transformation, to a certain extent, the day at work for a recent graduate will involve some form of interaction with technology.
Cal State LA
Charity Perry Ph.D.: I think one of the most significant trends we will see continue will be the ability to work more remotely. An important issue that should be highlighted though, is the rate that women were forced to leave the job market in light of the pandemic. So much of the progress women have fought for seems to have been lost at a significant rate when compare to men. In the fall of 2020, nearly 900,000 women left the labor force, more than four times the rate of men who left the labor force. Women are still viewed as 'caretakers.' So, the duties to their care for family (i.e., young children at home, aging parents) rose to incredibly high levels, and could potentially set the gender equity back an entire generation due to the loss of supervision during school hours that were provided, and the economic security held by some families prior to the pandemic. This could have long-term consequences which include women re-entering the workforce in lower than desired numbers.
Charity Perry Ph.D.: The ability to thrive with others, Teamwork! To grow even more, an important skill that graduates should possess upon transitioning out of higher education, is empathy. Empathy is crucial to not only a person individually, but those around. One must be able to develop social behaviors that enrich their lives and the lives of individuals who interact together. Having empathy enables us to consider where another person is coming from (another's perspective), plays a role in the self-regulation of one's own behavior and emotions and being able to identify the emotions of others. Another soft skill that graduates should possess is work ethic. If an individual is not committed to their work, or their work doesn't engage them in any way, there's room for bad habits and laziness to appear. I am constantly reminding my students that I want them to choose a career that they love (not what their parents want them to do). It's so important to love what you do every day. If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life! Certainly, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are fairly crucial in any line of work, and lastly, the ability to communicate with others is paramount. Not just over Zoom, but face to face as well.
Southeastern Louisiana University
Department of Sociology
David Burley Ph.D.: Yes, I believe there will be but it could be positive in that we may see an economic boom as we begin to come out of the pandemic. All sorts of services that have been shuttered on minimized to COVID-19 may see a boom as people are eager to re engage. Certainly, for liberal arts and particularly sociology students this may be pronounced as the creative economy returns and employers again look for folks who can build coalitions, problem solve, troubleshoot, research, etc.
David Burley Ph.D.: I am biased of course, but some specific sociology courses are essential. The biggest thing I would recommend is to build a rounded degree that covers many topic but one that also has a concentration in a certain area. For example, courses in social problems, social theory, race, gender, and class are all essential but maybe build a concentration in environmental sociology with classes in environmental sociology, urban sociology, globalization, food systems, etc. All of these give students history and context and the ability to come at problems from multiple standpoints. Oh, and study abroad is obviously very important too.
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Department of SociologyWebsite
Quan Mai Ph.D.: There is little doubt that it is challenging to graduate into this market - one filled with uncertainty and wrecked by the pandemic. Employers are still feeling the COVID squeeze, professional career fairs are postponed, and internships are either canceled or conducted virtually. Even in slow hiring times, college graduates should continue applying and casting a wider net: you differentiate yourself and boost your chance by being persistent in the job search. Since the beginning of 2021, the labor market sees an uptick in hiring and a slight decrease in unemployment. The professional and business service sectors have shown notable job gains in the last few months. As the economy shifts into recovery mode and vaccination become more widespread, I expect these trends to continue.
Quan Mai Ph.D.: The pandemic is forcing employers to reimagine the workplace in a post-pandemic world. Commuting to the office five days a week might be less of a norm going forward. Recent graduates would likely need to be comfortable operating away from the office - either fully remote or in a hybrid model. A lot of mentoring meetings and happy hours will take place digitally. More projects will be done via workplace chat, meetings, and collaboration software such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Slack. Recent graduates would do well to familiarize themselves with these tools as companies continue to reconstruct their operating models.
Social Work DepartmentWebsite
Cynthia Bott Ph.D.: Skills that are an asset include good communication skills, the ability to exercise cultural humility, a willingness to accept and utilize supervision, an ability to articulate their understanding of social and economic justice and how to implement the ideals in their work. Many will be working in interdisciplinary teams so the ability to get along with others and valuing good teamwork is essential. Those who are familiar and experienced with electronic service delivery may have a step-up over others for work delivered remotely.
Cynthia Bott Ph.D.: Despite the pandemic and the recent loss of employment due to a scaling back of the economy, social work continues to grow as a field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of social workers is expected to grow by 13% between 2019 and 2029 (2020). Areas that will have substantive growth include child, family, and school social workers; healthcare social workers, and mental health and substance abuse social workers. While many of these will require an MSW, all of these fields have entry-level positions that can be staffed by someone with a BSW.
During the pandemic, much of the micro and mezzo level work switched from face to face to telecommunication and social work is not an exception. According to the Pew Research Center (2020) approximately 20% of the population worked from home prior to the pandemic with that number currently standing at 71%. Many of these will want to continue working from home (54%) when the pandemic ends. This has changed the nature of service delivery and raised important discussions about confidentiality, client privacy, IT security, and access to technology for both workers and clients. The question about access to technology is a question about equity for many professions including social work.
Despite the increase in telecommunication, social workers in many settings are now considered essential workers. This includes social workers who are in settings where services cannot be delivered remotely due to the nature of the work including hospital emergency rooms, homeless shelters, nursing homes, etc.
Cynthia Bott Ph.D.: Many BSW social workers find employment with government agencies on the local, county, or government level as caseworkers. In the private non-profit sector there are BSW graduates working with group homes, schools, and a variety of agencies providing services to individuals and families. Other options include nonprofit management, community organizing, research, and policy work. It should be noted that the BSW degree provides flexibility in terms of further education. Many BSW students choose advance study in other areas besides social work including the law, public health, or counseling.
School of Social and Behavioral SciencesWebsite
Duane McBride Ph.D.: Remote work - While there will be some return to in-office work, employers have learned that productivity can be maintained with remote work and that considerable overhead can be saved with less office rental space. Employers will be looking for employees who are self-motivated and can work on our own.
Remote work may open up opportunities for those who live in rural areas, and for those who desire a more flexible schedule to manage childcare.
Early career remote employees will need to be more intentional in developing their professional network and in seeking mentorship than in-office employees.
Limited comeback for the service industry given more remote work
Duane McBride Ph.D.: Cognitive, human relations, and cultural skills stand out to employers? We have modified it with what I think are real world issues. Employers have realized that technical skills are not enough and can be taught easier than the skills we have added
a. Computer skills -- computer skills that allow remote work.
b. Diversity - the ability to understand the value of diversity in the workplace and work toward its achievement -- Opentextbc
c. the experience and cultural competence to deal with diversity in the workplace -- importance-to-employers">Employtest
e. Critical thinking - In this conspiracy, junk science age, employers value the ability to think critically about business opportunities and how to develop processes to meet those opportunities -- Ziprecruiter
A Preparation of any job out of college -- Any undergraduate Sociology curriculum has courses on diversity, gender issues and race and ethnic relations. In addition, in Sociology methods courses there is a strong emphasis on data analysis and critical thinking on how to interpret data. In our experience at Andrews University, Sociology majors score high on critical thinking on standardized tests. Our student evaluations show that students believe that we have been successful at teaching the value of diversity and critical thinking. Positions that our majors have obtained include:
Law enforcement (probation, parole, FBI, Police) - in this age of reimagining the police, there is an increased need for those who have diversity and critical thinking skills.
Marketing and Data analysis - because of training in statistics and data analysis sociology graduates have found jobs in market survey and data analysis.
Research Assistant - Sociology majors, because of their training in statistics, research, and data analysis, find many opportunities to work as a research assistant for a wide variety of research projects.
Preparation for many professions - Sociology is an ideal undergraduate major for those who plan to go on for a graduate degree in:
Law - Sociology has a track that focuses on criminal justice. Students from that track/courses have been admitted to Harvard University, Northwestern University, Notre Dame, the University of California (Davis). It should be noted that Michelle Obama was a Sociology Major.
Medicine - One of the major ways that medicine has changed is the recognition that physicians must have skills to work with a wide variety of cultures. On the current MCAT, there are more questions from Sociology than from Chemistry. The School of Social and Behavioral Sciences teaches a Principles of Sociology Course for Pre-Meds. We have had several pre-med students over the years who have majored in Sociology and have been admitted to such medical schools as Loma Linda University.
MBA - We have had several graduates go on for advanced degrees in business management
Social Work - The number one MSW program at the University of Michigan does not offer an undergraduate degree in social work. They want their students to have an undergraduate degree in another field. Sociology provides an excellent undergraduate degree for an MSW.
International Development - Sociology provides excellent training for those who go on to advanced degrees in humanitarian studies and development.
Sociology PhD - And an undergraduate major in Sociology offers a great entry into a PhD program in Sociology. Those with PhD's in Sociology have the following opportunities.
a. College/University teaching - The opportunity to engage with great young minds.
b. Research to advance our understanding of society structure, function, changes, and equality - the opportunity to do research on the major issues that face our society today.
c. Leadership roles - Sociologists serve on many national grant review committees with the National Institutes of Health, National Institutes of Justice, and major foundations such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Sociologists also serve on such major policy boards as the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Sociologists have the opportunity to change social policy and support the research to make those needed changes.
Illinois State University
Department of Sociology and AnthropologyWebsite
Dr. Frank Beck: It's clear that those graduating with a degree this May are entering a difficult labor market. Many lower wage workers are without work and cannot easily find it. Many middle wage workers were laid off and have not yet returned to work. This depresses further economic activity that would normally be spurred by regular employment, wages, and consumption. Further, if someone does find gainful employment, it may be part-time or the wage might be depressed; and when unemployment is high, workers feel less secure in negotiating increased wages.
Specific to Sociology, recent graduates have found employment in marketing, human resources, sales, at non-profits, and with government agencies. Though corporations see the value of a social science degree because graduates know how to write and analyze data, we know corporate work is hard to find. Budgets at non-profits and in government agencies have been affected by the pandemic. At my own program, there are increased applications to the graduate school; this could be due to decreased employment opportunities for those with bachelor's degrees.
As the economy recovers, the labor market will improve for those graduating at that time, and hopefully those that graduated now. However, the research is clear that one's initial wage from one's first professional job are carried into subsequent jobs, persist for as much as a decade, and can affect lifetime earnings.
Yet, increasingly employers know graduates with Sociology degrees bring experience with advanced methodologies and data analytical abilities...plus an understanding of diversity and inclusion. This latter point is highly central to building a just economy in the 21st century. Sociologists are poised to contribute their understanding of social justice to all willing to listen.