March 12, 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.
Daniel MacDonald Ph.D.: There will be an enduring impact of the pandemic on graduates because of the shift of preferences to remote work in some occupations. This could be a plus. While many jobs are not suitable for remote work, the jobs that graduates are looking for are more likely to be suitable for remote work than jobs that don't require a college degree. As a result of the preference for remote work, graduates might find that they have some options for where they live, and they might choose to live in lower-cost areas, even if it means not earning as much money.
On the other hand, graduates spent the last year or so in remote learning environments, and with the other social and economic changes brought about by the pandemic, this could mean they didn't pick up the same amount of skills they would have with in-person classes. Graduates need to make sure they are still learning the tools and skills that are so important in those senior-level courses - these will make them weather the job market more effectively.
Daniel MacDonald Ph.D.: A good job out of college is one that fits the candidate's skills but which still gives them potential for growth. A computer scientist should not be working as an assistant editor for a newspaper, while a political scientist should not be working on spreadsheets for a bank. Even though students have a lot of debt after graduating college, it's important to keep your mind on the bigger picture and not simply take the first offer that comes across their desk.
Daniel MacDonald Ph.D.: In my field of economics, data and computer science skills, like advanced skills in Microsoft Excel or Python/R, would make graduates more competitive and will increase their long-run earnings potential.
Physical Science & Process Technology
Kenneth Resecker: There is no doubt that the disruption caused by the Coronavirus impact will have, and has already had, a significant impact on students who had to learn through it. While there are many excellent online programs in the world, the program I teach in is not designed for remote or virtual learning. The students who come through the Process Technology program will end up in an industrial or manufacturing career field. The majority of the courses in the program involve hands-on training, and actual operation of the various pieces of equipment they will be working with after graduation. Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, all but two of the courses in the program were in-person learning only. The other courses involved face-to-face instruction, in an environment that had a multitude of visual aids, and many of them involved lab time that was spent interacting with the equipment. Today, the vast majority of the courses in our program are provided with an online/virtual lecture, with lab time on a separate day. Some courses even utilize pre-recorded lectures that student will watch on their own time, in an attempt to maximize the virtual interaction and lab time expanding on what was seen in the pre-recorded lecture. All that to say, it just isn't the same as being face-to-face with the students. Being able to read their body language and see their facial expressions as you teach is invaluable, and when it isn't there, the quality of instruction diminishes. The students who will graduate thought this pandemic will have lost a lot of the quality instruction they should have received. I wouldn't go so far as to say the impact would be enduring, so to speak, because I believe they can overcome the impact given enough time and on the job training.
Kenneth Resecker: In the Process Technology program, it would be difficult to point to one particular course that would have the biggest impact. The program is designed in such a way that each course builds on the previous course, so the bigger impact would be the quality of instruction received on the previous course as student progresses through. The first courses taken have a lot of information that students need to memorize. The next course requires them to identify equipment and explain how it works. The next gives them multiple pieces of equipment working together, and they have to analyze the system and explain how the system is affected by other parts of the system, and so on. By the end of the program they are actually starting up a small plant and bringing it within normal operating parameters. So, that being said, receiving a quality education throughout the entire program is what will ultimately have the biggest impact on your job prospects. Also, given the hands-on and physical labor aspects of our industry, the individual skill set and aptitude of the student will play a large role in both their success in the program and their ability to find a spot in the industry.
Kenneth Resecker: In our field, your earning potential is both deep and wide. What I mean by that is, a Process Technician can make a lot of money, and can also fill a lot of different roles within the industry. The Process Technology field is present in a variety of different markets: chemical and petrochemical, pharmaceutical, water treatment, paper production, oil & gas exploration, and many more. There's a wide variety of options to choose from and the amount of money that can be made in any of them depends on the person's drive to excel. Many in the Process Technology field are satisfied with being a technician for their entire career with a 100k salary each year. Others, who may not want to stay in the same role that long, have a variety of different roles they could transition to. Many technicians move in to training roles, become a Technical Advisor, or move up to a supervisor position. So, like I said, the biggest factor to a person's earning potential increasing would be their individual drive to want to do more. The possibilities are near endless if the person wants to pursue them.
Dorothy Zilic: There are some aspects of COVID-19 that have been eye-opening in terms of exploring options to accomplish tasks and maintain services. From discussions with regional employers and HR professionals, it appears that there may be more virtual/remote opportunities. There has not always been a work-from-home mentality in many industries, but due to COVID-19, many more employers have adapted and been innovative in their practices to open up the format of the work. It does appear that some remote options may continue given the success that they have seen in various areas of work performed. Several companies have begun using virtual trainings with their employees for instance, which I believe will also see a continuation.
Aspects to the recruitment process may continue, such as virtual information sessions from recruiters across the county to virtual interviewing. Virtual and/or video interviews had begun to take off prior to last March and it has been very beneficial to giving the students and alumni opportunities to connect, use technology, and make a positive impression. Many networking opportunities that have been significant in the past have continued in virtual platforms. It is important to make valuable connections and this can be done in different formats. The importance of skills that employers have looked for universally also still appears to be consistent. Some examples include: verbal and written communication, organization, adaptability, leadership, and problem solving. More than ever, familiarity with technology and the ability to be flexible can be helpful within one's work.
Students may also see less of a barrier to their geographic location, if they do not want to move. They may want to explore remote/virtual opportunities where they can utilize technology to help them gain valuable experience and/or enter the workforce.
Dorothy Zilic: This is a time to consider all kinds of opportunities for one's next step. Every opportunity can open a new door. Graduates may want to explore their options. There are many employers hiring. Colleges and universities are working to connect students and especially graduates to employment and opportunities for continuing education. There are virtual and in-person job and internship fairs, graduate school information sessions, prospects for public-service positions, and virtual interview and networking opportunities. Many schools are not only working to connect students with employers, but also with caring and supportive alumni. There are many opportunities to connect for career-related opportunities, service learning, and mentoring.
There are entry-level options both in the private and public sector. Management training programs and rotational leadership programs are both examples of a starting point for business-related students to enter the workforce, enhance their experience, and build skills for success in their current position, as well as to make lateral moves and to ultimately look toward upper-level positions. I encourage students to look into options also within the government to learn what kinds of opportunities exist for your major.
Dorothy Zilic: Experience continues to be an important factor when entering the workforce in numerous fields. The majority of employers want to see some kind of related experience, such as an internship, part-time employment, volunteer/service and course-related experiences relevant to their major. There are many employers offering internships, both in-person and virtual. There are also numerous volunteer opportunities to explore that are virtual in nature. This can be a time to be creative! Some students and graduates start their own businesses for example.
It is important to look at the requirements of entry-level jobs within the industry to know what experience one should strive for throughout his/her college career. There are several fields, such as Accounting and Public Relations/Marketing, where more than one internship may be advisable. Including a "Related Experience" section on a resume allows the students/candidates to display their most relevant work quickly to an employer.
Skills are also noteworthy and may help someone to be a competitive applicant when applying. Are there skills the employer is seeking, such as needing proficiency with Excel for an Accounting position? In addition to highlighting examples of related experience on a resume, skills are essential to include on a resume, cover letter, and/or in an interview. There may be skills specific to the position and also transferable skills.
Transferrable skills are beneficial to showcase because they transcend the position. These skills may be applicable to any position and often when employers interview, they use behavioral interviewing to determine how someone has reacted/acted in the past to help them to predict how the person will behave in the future. These skills and also one's attitude can show he/she is a capable and enthusiastic candidate.
While in college, students may work in different areas other than their chosen field of study. They may have had part-time positions that are more related to their major, but they might not be as directly related. It is important to think about each position/experience one has had, what has been learned, and what strengths have been brought out or enhanced. When talking to students about their strengths, I often ask the question, "What was the worst day you had on the job?" Thinking about one's most difficult day and how he/she handled it can demonstrate where a person's strengths lie and this is important to remember when talking about skills, abilities, and values. Connecting with the institution's career centers and all the wonderful resources at one's disposal (e.g., faculty, advisors, staff, peers, personal network) can help students not only navigate the job search process, but also to learn how to effectively discuss their experience, skills, and how to market/brand themselves. Each person has so much to give and bring to a position. I encourage students to think about their experiences (e.g., course-related, employment, internship, volunteer, club/organization, public service) and the valuable things they take away from them.