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.
Dr. Brian Forster Ph.D.: For a short while, I believe there may be. In science for example, having lab courses online, students lose the "hands-on" skills they would normally learn in class (things that an online class cannot properly teach). Not all online simulations can recreate the same experience as being in the lab, performing the technique. This could potentially mean that recent graduates applying for laboratory job positions may need to either take a refresher course or may need additional time in training to make sure they have a good handle on the required lab technical skills. With schools bringing more classes back into the classroom or lab, I expect that this will not be the future norm.
Dr. Brian Forster Ph.D.: Anything in your field. Even if it is not the ideal job or the "dream" job, a job that could potentially open doors or bring your closer to that ideal/dream job is one that graduating students should investigate seriously.
Dr. Brian Forster Ph.D.: Being multi-disciplined. Today's challenges require knowledge in multiple fields of study (not being specialized in one specific thing). Graduates should show a wide breadth of knowledge.
Adam Colson Ph.D.: I believe that the impact of the pandemic will manifest itself in several ways, the most obvious being the anemic job market associated with economic contraction in certain industrial sectors. Equally concerning, albeit less obvious, are the opportunity losses experienced by students during the pandemic. The technical skills of chemistry and related sciences are best learned by hands-on experience, but the pandemic has impacted experiential learning at all levels, from first-year general chemistry labs to graduate-level thesis work. Students who are requested to submit research or capstone portfolios as part of their applications for employment or admission to graduate school could find that their applications are less competitive than those of their peers who have not experienced pandemic-related disruptions.
Adam Colson Ph.D.: Unlike certain engineering disciplines, chemistry graduates do not undergo formal licensing or certification before entering the workforce, although academic institutions may apply for endorsement of their degree programs by the American Chemical Society (ACS). Some institutions benefit from the latter, but there are many excellent degree programs in the U.S. that are not ACS approved, and I cannot recall a case in which ACS approval (or the absence thereof) was a major factor in the decision to hire a candidate or admit a student to a graduate program.
Adam Colson Ph.D.: All graduates should work to develop their narrative skills, regardless of major or academic discipline. Compelling narratives can create a connection between people and communicate ideas in ways that few other forms of communication can. Graduates who are able to hone the art of the narrative and utilize classical narrative practices throughout the job application process will find that their application materials and interviews will make lasting impressions on hiring managers and committees, ultimately resulting in more successful job searches.
Dr. Paul Brandt: I believe we will see a move to making chemical and pharmaceutical sales more online because it is less expensive and both the seller and buyer have become accustomed to this technique. I expect that some will come back to a face-to-face interaction but it will not be as prominent as it once was.
Dr. Paul Brandt: We've seen that students with some instrumental expertise, e.g., HPLC and GC are able to have an advantage over others. Students should understand what is happening within the instrument (chromatography). However, it is still primarily the softer skills that employers are looking for and that on-the-job training is necessary for the employee to operate instrumentation or do other quality control methods in the laboratory.
Dr. Paul Brandt: Most students get their first entry-level job and find that it is not what they want to do for the rest of their life. Many will have a new/different job within a year. If you can find a position that is not simply rinse-lather-repeat and one that has some investigative aspect to it this generally keeps the employee more engaged and willing to continue with the company for a longer period of time.