April 13, 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.
Penn State Erie, The Behrend College
School of Humanities & Social SciencesWebsite
Dr. Christopher Shelton Ph.D.: Yes, there will be an enduring impact on psychology graduates, as a result of the pandemic. The pandemic is certainly helping to increase public awareness surrounding the importance of mental health and wellbeing. During the pandemic, we are facing troubling mental health trends. Namely, a significant rise in mental health concerns across the country. This is problematic on many fronts, but in the context of employment, it is widening the gap between the supply of mental health practitioners and the increasing demand for mental health services. Even pre-pandemic, our ability to meet the increasing mental health demands was lacking, with many places across the US being classified as Health Professional Shortage Areas by the US Department of Health & Human Services. Simply put, there are not enough mental health practitioners in the US to meet the current need. Given, the sharp rise in mental health concerns due to the pandemic, it is likely that there will continue to be a significant need for psychology graduates interested in mental health professions over the next decade.
Dr. Christopher Shelton Ph.D.: Within the mental health field, having specialized psychological training, in addition to a broad set of fundamental psychological skills, can help graduates stand out when on the job market. Future psychology graduates interested in mental health careers should prepare along their academic journey to partake in trainings and seek out certifications that align with their post-academic goals.
For those with a psychology degree at the undergraduate level, licensure is not always a requirement for jobs within the mental health field (e.g., case manager, mental health technician, social work assistant, health educator). That said, having additional certifications you can attain through specific academic training (e.g., Behavioral Health and Counseling Psychology Certificate or Child Development Certificate) or additional trainings outside of academia, focused on specialized mental health initiatives (e.g., Mental Health First Aid, Mental Health Facilitator training) can have a positive impact on job prospects. Moreover, those with a psychology undergraduate degree may wish to consider pursuing graduate training. Attaining a master or doctoral level graduate degree in any of the many mental health domains (e.g., clinical psychology, counseling psychology, school counseling) can have a significant impact on factors such as starting salary, lifetime earning potential, range of potential jobs one is suited for, and overall career advancement.
For those with a psychology degree at the graduate level, licensure is a fundamental part of most mental health professions (e.g., psychologists, counselors, social workers, school counselors) and will certainly impact job prospects. Many places will help to provide those seeking licensure with the post-educational supervised training hours required by their specific state licensing board. That being said, once you have the required training, you should plan to sit for and complete the state licensure exam, as soon as possible. Being licensed is often seen as a benefit by employers seeking to hire mental health professionals. Moreover, one typically has greater flexibility in their work once licensed (e.g., opening their own private practice, joining an integrated health unit at a medical center).
In addition to seeking state licensure, individuals with graduate level degrees should also consider seeking additional board certification (e.g., American Board of Professional Psychology, National Board for Certified Counselors). Board certification signifies one has expertise in a specific area and can help to differentiate an individual from other practitioners.
Dr. Christopher Shelton Ph.D.: There are several methods that are particularly effective in significantly increasing earning potential. First, seeking additional post-baccalaureate training at either the master or doctoral level. Second, completing trainings with various organizations that result in certificates denoting a specialty in a particular area. Third, working towards and gaining national board certification. Lastly, gaining experience in developing or providing remote mental health services. The pandemic has created a significant shift in the mode of service delivery for those seeking to address their mental health needs. Due to factors such as social distancing requirements, many mental health services during the pandemic have shifted to a virtual, online modality. It is likely that demand for virtual treatments will remain elevated, even post-pandemic. Thus, graduates who have familiarity and expertise in providing telehealth will be better equipped to differentiate themselves from other mental health practitioners.
Sea Mar Community Health Centers
Vanna Kong: In my opinion. I think that the changes that were made during the pandemic will be here to stay. Telemedicine technology and practices are now a part of normal clinical operations. An example that before COVID all of our appointments were here at the clinic in person. Now we offer telemedicine appointments to all of our patients and they get to choose on how they would they want to be seen by our providers.The biggest growth that I believe will occur in the job market is areas in IT security, language services, and health care staffing.
Vanna Kong: Soft skills that I believe are important for new graduates are to be open to changes. The reason why I say that is because during COVID, I had to implement many changes to the way we do our normal clinic processes. It was a struggle to get staff to buy into these new changes but I had to remind everyone that the overall focus was to ensure that patients and staff risks to COVID was minimize as much as possible during a visit.
Vanna Kong: I think that salaries will be based on an individual education and professional background. It is a lot harder nowadays to obtain a higher-paying job without a trade skill or education background. My professional background includes over 20 years in health care and an MBA degree that I obtain a year ago. Without having an MBA, I don't think that I wouldn't have the opportunity to be here in my current role.
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Department of CounselingWebsite
Lisa Corbin Ph.D.: Before COVID, the mental health job market was due to grow by 23% between 2016 and 2023; projections are not surpassing that former prediction.
Trends in Mental Health: I believe we will start to see more job postings for online/remote counselors. Many mental health organizations realized they can effectively provide mental health services using technological domains. This will likely affect ethical codes and insurance coverages for both the clinician and the client.
(I have a SMALL private practice) and many of my colleagues are reporting a serious increase in requests for mental health services over the past year. We also know that is a 93% increase in anxiety screenings and that 8 in 10 of these people who took an assessment scored moderate to severe in their anxiety symptoms. The same goes for depression. There was a 62% increase in depression screenings and an increase in suicidal ideation. The people most at risk from the fallout of the pandemic are those in vulnerable communities and these are often folks who are uninsured. Therefore, I predict we will see an increase in mental health services for people of lower SES.
There is also a trend for counselors of color to be more diligent in serving black and brown communities. This movement will hopefully help people of color obtain services from people who look like them and understand the complexities of being a person of color. I also believe it may help demystify counseling and negate any negative stereotypes from seeking mental health services for people of color.
I believe the stress of a pandemic has highlighted the need for people to engage in self-care practices. I believe we will start to see more self-care activities embedded into the workplace and schools.
Unfortunately, I believe we will also see an uptick in grief services. Not having an opportunity to be with loved ones in their final moments or to hold death rituals / ceremonies adds an extra layer of complexity to grief.
Lisa Corbin Ph.D.: I would suggest graduating clinicians attend a training on how to deliver clinical services in an online fashion.
I would also suggest attending a training on grief. Grief is an ever-changing process and requires a specialized approach.
I also believe having a training on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy would be highly marketable since CBT is cost-effective, timely, and evidenced based. Many insurance companies and organizations are looking to serve the masses; CBT can often do that.
In line with what I shared above, I would also suggest clinicians not only engage in self-care themselves, but also pick up a specific coping skill that they can teach to others since self-care is likely going to be embedded into schools and workplaces.
Lisa Corbin Ph.D.: Starting salary for a counselor is between $35,000 and 60,000.
While there may be a need to fill clinical positions, it is a hard sell to invite people into the counseling profession considering students need a bachelors and masters degree and the return on investment is fairly low. However, there are numerous federal programs for loan repayment. Many loan repayment programs help clinicians who are often working at non-profit organizations pay back loans within ten years and payments are based upon the graduate's income. Also, a counselor often has a flexible work schedule and experiences feelings of fulfillment from helping others. Counselor positions vary from working in community mental health, to being a consultant, to working in a private practice (in which the salary is much higher than 60,000), to working for a correctional facility, to human resources, to the armed forces, etc. There is a lot you can do with the degree and the skills you learn while attending graduate school.
I believe with the field being more recognized that salaries may increase.
Pastoral Clinical Mental Health CounselingWebsite
Timothy Hanna Ph.D.: At the same time that COVID has placed strains on the economy, it has also led to an increased need for psycho-spiritual support as individuals strive to cope with the multi-faceted impact of this pandemic. As such, the current need for professionals equipped to address mental and spiritual health has risen in the past many months, and likely will continue to rise as people continue to make sense of and come to terms with ongoing and new challenges. In addition, the need for switching to "telehealth" modalities for providing these services has increased both their popularity and familiarity for professionals and lay folk alike. This has enhanced access in ways that may persist for years to come, if not permanently augmented the means by which individuals can engage in such supportive services.
Timothy Hanna Ph.D.: Focusing on telehealth training could increase one's job options. Many workshops exist through various professional organizations tied to mental and spiritual health (ACA, APA, ACPE, SPT, PESI, etc.). If the student is interested in specialized certification (such as EMDR, DBT, etc.), they can also pursue those additional trainings during this time.
Timothy Hanna Ph.D.: Practice, practice, practice, and supervision, supervision, supervision! Many health fields require internships and supervised hours between graduation and official licensure or certification. If you're not able to find a paid position, take whatever position you can find that offers you quality access to clientele and on-site supervision. Keep looking for paid positions in the meantime, and/or get involved in a peer supervision group to learn from others' cases and experiences as well. The actual practice and supervisory feedback is where we cement our skills and solidify our professional identity.
College of Arts and Sciences directoryWebsite
Jon Sperry Ph.D.: COVID-19 has created a number of obstacles for our current students and graduates- including their ability to get clinical experiences through their required practicum experiences in our CMHC program and in obtaining their post-masters clinical hours required for state licensure.
Some mental health services are allowing our students and graduates to offer virtual (telehealth) counseling services.
Some local mental health counseling organizations have reduced their mental health staff, while other organizations are actively looking for new staff counselors based on the high demand for counseling services. While some counseling clinics remain open with regular face-to-face options still being available, we anticipate telehealth therapy platforms to be a major source of employment for our graduates. Our graduates are very likely going to be working in settings that exclusively offer mental health services through video chat, texting, and phone calls.
Jon Sperry Ph.D.: The next five years will include a major increase in counseling services being offered virtually. Some mental health-related app developers are currently scrambling to develop apps to increase the accessibility of counseling services to individuals from the comfort of their own homes. These apps allow individuals to access mental health counseling services through video chatting, texting, or phone.