March 16, 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.
Diane LaFreniere: The pandemic has created an enormous opportunity for students to understand the need for adaptability, positivity, and team work. For engineering students, this translates to a broader skillset with the depth and breadth of exposure to transition to interdisciplinary engineering roles that require a strong initiative and willingness to contribute in an individual and group capacity. For employees, this will require an increased awareness and desire to improve computer-related and communication skills to adapt to a flexible or remote work schedule, as well as assume greater responsibility in diverse capacities. For employers, this translates toward revised position descriptions and career paths and recruitment strategies to seek candidates who are equipped to navigate new directions and pivot into a variety of roles within the organization. At Grand Valley State University, we emphasize the need for a strong engineering core with greater specialization for students approaching graduation. The mandatory co-op program and senior capstone experience equips the students with the technical skillset necessary for interdisciplinary engineering teamwork, along with the essential skills necessary to conduct themselves professionally and become future engineering leaders.
Diane LaFreniere: All engineering graduates should possess solid time and organizational management skills, as well as the ability to professionally conduct themselves in a team environment that promotes collaboration and inclusivity and a strong initiative to understand the importance of acquiring and applying new knowledge, using appropriate learning strategies. Given the increased focus on professional skills, one of the major objectives of the GVSU engineering co-op program is to ensure that all students understand the significance of an essential skillset, which is necessary for future professional growth and development, as well as career pivoting with changing interests or demand. At GVSU, we have seen an increased interest in employer-sponsored education aimed at talent development that builds technical and professional expertise, with a focus on a growth mindset, as well as project management, ethics, communications, and teamwork. The GVSU co-op program and senior capstone experience provide a unique opportunity for continuous industrial collaboration to build a strong professional skillset through online modules, curricular projects, classroom instruction, and industry-sponsored project work that reinforce discipline-specific industry work.
Diane LaFreniere: Given the increased demand for engineering professionals, the salaries have steadily increased with graduating seniors securing positions with base salaries of $65K+. The starting salaries vary slightly depending upon engineering discipline. Students with a greater depth/breadth of knowledge base and experience often receive base offers of $75-80K or more. At Grand Valley, students often review and compare the cost of living when assessing an offer, as the base salary and future salary increases must be considered in connection with local living expenses. In light of the recent health crisis, more candidates are evaluating the standard/cost of living, in addition to the salary, and making decisions accordingly.