December 14, 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.
Tony Brown: The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the many economic, environmental, and social fractures in our society. With a growing societal awareness that these issues must be addressed, the need for employees who understand and can navigate this new, more complex setting will be critical.
Tony Brown: Social and racial equity, environmental stewardship, and economic equity will be bigger challenges for businesses. Insensitivity to these issues can affect the bottom line. For example, customers are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on a company's environmental and social performance. Employees with skills in navigating issues of sustainability will become more valued. Future employees will need skills such as creativity and the abilities to operate in complex situations and to work in teams. It will also require them to have a broad view of issues and the systemic connections that drive them. This makes students with degrees in environmental studies, environmental science, regenerative design, resilient community development, and design ideal candidates for any business trying to be more in tune with the issues of our time.
Tony Brown: It will also open opportunities in government. The growing awareness of the environmental challenges we face will increase demand for people who understand urban issues such as resilience preparedness, urban design, energy and water policy, community organizing, and sustainable development.
Most of the jobs will be focused in urban areas where these inequities are most severe, but with the greater reach of online communications, some jobs, particularly corporate jobs, are likely to be more distributed regionally.
This is a short list of potential jobs:
-Community Program Director
-Community Development Director
-Parks and Recreation Official
-Planning Commission Member
-Project and/or Program Manager
Euan Hague Ph.D.: I think both immediately and in the longer term, the ability to work from home and on a more flexible schedule is going to be more common. In the past nine months, it is something we have all gotten used to, and public administration positions, like many other jobs, are often working virtually, holding video-conference meetings and so on. I think that municipalities may have people come to the office every other day, or perhaps once or twice a week. Such changes mean that an individual may have to get used to working independently on projects (and on technology like GoogleDocs, MicroSoft Teams, Zoom, etc.).These changes are accelerating our ability to work together yet alone.
Euan Hague Ph.D.: I think that there are a lot of people looking for work, so I think that prior experience is important. Students who have pursued internships or had previous positions will look strong on paper. Different jobs have different needs for specific skills, but in general, the abilities to present, write, and work as part of a team are always good. In my own field, related to urban development and planning, having at least an introduction to geographic information systems (GIS) is increasingly important. Indeed, there is growing understanding in public administration of the need for "data-driven" decision making. That does not necessarily mean that students need to have coding skills, but a basic level of statistics and knowing your way around a data set is always a plus.
Euan Hague Ph.D.: Public administration occurs all over the United States. Here in the Chicagoland area we have around 150 municipalities, and each has a city planner, a community development officer, a city manager or clerk, and so on. One thing about public sector jobs is that they tend to be pretty stable and secure with benefits. It's a great career to consider entering in this difficult job market.
Dr. Tracy Pintchman Ph.D.: The effect of the virus on this year's graduates' professional life is still unknown and is, for the moment, unknowable. The situation we are in is unprecedented and dependent on the practical implementation of a vaccine that will enable us to return to something more "normal" than we have experienced over the last nine months. The number and quality of employment opportunities for this year's graduates are dependent on how quickly the economy recovers from pandemic-related restrictions and the economic contraction that has resulted from the public health emergency we have all been experiencing.
Dr. Tracy Pintchman Ph.D.: College graduates will continue to need writing and critical thinking skills and essential soft skills, such as the ability to communicate ideas and work in teams. None of that will change.
Dr. Tracy Pintchman Ph.D.: That depends on the job and the applicant. However, I advise students graduating with a Global Studies major to try and pick up some demonstrable applied skills, such as computer coding, website design, marketing, data science, and the like. Even if a student has just two or three courses in one of these areas, they are probably more marketable than their peers who do not have such "hard" skills. Fluency or near fluency in a foreign language, especially a lesser-taught language (such as Hindi/Urdu, Pashto, Russian, and so forth), is also a marketable skill.
Christy Glass: Many things employers care about cannot necessarily be gleaned from a resume, including one's ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems. However, employers also want to recruit and hire folks who can work effectively in diverse teams and who have experience communicating across differences. Many workplaces are investing in equity and inclusion efforts and seek talented individuals who can support those efforts. This means that employers may increasingly look for evidence that you've invested time and effort in learning about and applying skills related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Christy Glass: Research has been telling us for years that employees need flexibility and, when they have it, they are happier, more productive, and more likely to stay with their employer. If there is a silver lining of the pandemic, it may be that employers are seeing how productive their teams can be while working remotely. My hope is that we don't ever return to "normal" -- especially if normal includes overwork, face time demands, and 24/7 expectations. These types of practices lower engagement and satisfaction and increase turnover -- and perhaps most importantly, increase inequalities in access to good jobs. Technology will play a big role in shaping what jobs look like in the years to come. More and more workers will be able to work remotely, which will open up jobs to talented candidates near and far. Several industries have experimented with remote work prior to the pandemic, and I expect many more will expand flexible work arrangements in the coming years.
Christy Glass: The most troubling impact of the pandemic, so far, is the devastating impact it has had on women's careers and the gender gap in employment. We have seen a sharp decline in women's employment since March. Two factors have contributed to this decline: closures of schools and childcare centers and job cuts in retail and hospitality. These trends are particularly worrying because unemployment during an economic recession can have long-term impacts on future employment and earnings. We have to support investments in education, job re-entry, and childcare now so that we can ensure that all graduates can sustain good jobs moving forward.
Jon Shelton: The job market is likely to be tough in the next few years. The first thing to remember is that if you don't immediately find a job, it is NOT your fault. Your government has failed you by not constructing an economy that ensures you have economic security while your talents are being put to good use. We have to hope a second federal response to the pandemic happens soon, or many employers-in the private, non-profit, and public sectors-will likely be forced to further limit labor expenses due to the pandemic. Even if there is a robust federal response, the job market is not likely to be easy. Many graduates do not have the luxury of focusing on finding jobs that might build valuable skills for the future, even if the pay is not optimal. If you do have that luxury, however, take the time to focus on finding a job or other opportunity that will build on the social science skills you will come away with after you graduate. When you apply and interview, make sure you can explain to any prospective employers how a social science degree separates you from graduates in other fields. You've learned how to think critically, analyze systems, and communicate ideas clearly. Those are skills that translate well to a number of jobs. Make sure you can explain that to any prospective employers!
Jon Shelton: Exponentially more information becomes available every day. New applications and data processing will ensure that any worker has to continue to learn new technologies on the job. In my field-history-digital capabilities are making research so much more accessible, so much so that it is becoming a challenge to examine all the digitally available sources, even on a very narrow topic. Workers in all social sciences fields are going to face the increased challenge of having to organize and navigate almost infinite amounts of data. Indeed, the challenge in many jobs moving forward won't be finding information; it will be figuring out which information to use in order to solve social, economic, and political challenges. A degree in a social science field, which will provide students the social context to understand the world around them, will set up graduates in these programs well in this task!
Jon Shelton: For years, we have heard that students have to major in business or STEM fields in order to have good jobs. It's not true! In fact, some research has shown that while careers in STEM fields typically pay more right out of college, degrees in the Humanities and Social Sciences even out, if not pay more over the long run. The reason is that workers with a strong background in problem-solving and clearly communicating complex ideas can adapt to new tasks as work changes. So hang in there, look for work that interests you as you find a job to pay your bills, and always be on the look-out for new ways to use what you learned in college.
Sarah Cosgrove: The experience that stands out on resumes is a practical application of the skills and tools learned in the classroom. This experience can be as a research assistant working with a professor on a manuscript. It can take the form of an internship where the student may have conducted data analysis or helped write policy briefs. Hiring managers want to see evidence of a student applying what they have learned.
Sarah Cosgrove: If a gap year is needed, I would recommend graduates work on their data analytics, writing, and problem-solving skills. Jobs for economics majors usually rely heavily on all three. The graduate could learn to use or improve their modeling or business intelligence software skills or could offer to provide research support to a former professor. Another option is to pursue a fellowship or internship to build skills and experience.
Sarah Cosgrove: With continuous growth in big data, I think data analytics software will become more critical and prevalent shortly. Familiarity with various platforms and comfort distilling large data sets into actionable recommendations will be valuable skills for graduates.
Dr. Lindsey Feldman Ph.D.: At first glance, anthropology may not seem like the most "workforce oriented" degree to get while in college. However, this couldn't be further from the truth! Now, more than ever, employers in all fields--from engineering to healthcare to marketing--are looking much more holistically at job candidates and selecting individuals who demonstrate the ability to think critically, write well, approach challenges empathetically, and synthesize many different thoughts and viewpoints into clear, actionable goals. Anthropology provides direct training in each of these areas. With your degree, you will have specific skills like qualitative research methods training, practice with ethnographic writing, analyze reports, readings, and other material, and the ability to communicate with many individuals, some with very different lived experiences than you. These are all things that can and should go on a resume with an anthropology degree!
Dr. Lindsey Feldman Ph.D.: Anthropologists are increasingly sought after in the technology industry and the health care industry due to their qualitative research and evaluation skills. Additionally, anthropologists are increasingly employed in marketing and communications fields due to their ability to approach business from a humanistic perspective.
Dr. Lindsey Feldman Ph.D.: Anthropology sits at the leading edge of technological change and innovation. One industry that is increasingly hiring anthropologists is the tech industry. User Design research employs individuals with qualitative research experience to explore how users of various technologies interact with their products. Anthropologists are primed to conduct this research, and they are often valuable additions to technology companies.