November 20, 2020
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. L. Scott Chumbley: I just think companies will be somewhat reluctant to hire initially. Once things get moving again, I'd like to think there will be more openings because, I think, a lot of people have retired early because of the virus.
Dr. L. Scott Chumbley: Obviously, now that everybody has been forced to use video conferencing and networking, I think companies will use that more to save money on travel.
Dr. L. Scott Chumbley: It depends. Trump cut a lot of regulations that just killed businesses and did many things to strengthen U.S. manufacturing. As long as those changes aren't reversed, I think we'll see a boom in hiring. If the new administration decides to return to how things were before Trump, I think growth will be slow, if at all.
Dr. Shenda Baker: The primary job market for 2020 materials scientists moving into their careers, my crystal ball reveals, will still be strong. Unlike retail, people are still purchasing and innovating goods. However, the delivery mechanisms are changing.
This past year has seen people and markets looking for new, more sustainable materials for packaging and storage, for communications and marketing, and for transportation and shipping. The research enterprise is generally strong, but many smaller companies are conserving cash until they can see the corner on COVID. Companies/industries that are adaptive and able to identify spaces into which they fill a need will be the strong ones out the other side. Looks like in the era of COVID, size matters, and having the ability to absorb losses in unanticipated ways is helpful.
Dr. Shenda Baker: Obviously, anything that allows people to have flexibility in work location, as well as much more widespread use of electronic notebooks for record keeping, will be more prevalent. Growing and continued focus on sustainable, full life-cycle-managed products.
Dr. Shenda Baker: Certainly, how we work will continue to change. Graduates will need to be comfortable working in more controlled lab environments, more time spent on cleaning and self-awareness, communicating remotely, and being self-motivated. Competition for jobs will only get more challenging, so materials science grads will need to be able to demonstrate their willingness to work hard, to learn, to act without daily oversight, and to communicate very effectively with supervisors or staff through whatever mechanisms are available. That is what will make them more attractive.
Research and lab work will not go away and will remain critical in addressing health and lifestyle choices we all will make in light of the pandemic and its future impact. Maintaining or changing the nature of collaborative creativity and the spontaneity of a coffee break, drink with colleagues, or sofa-chats at a conference will be hard, but our grads will figure out new ways to do it.