January 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.
Adrienne Flight: I anticipate changes in client service delivery since different people will be ready and comfortable to return to in-person services at different times. This means that employers will likely seek to hire music therapists who are familiar with telehealth music therapy services, including comfort using platforms such as Zoom and the ability to navigate and engage through digital music-making programs. Music is especially difficult over Zoom since there is often a slight but audible time lag, so comfort working through that will be key. I also anticipate that the job market will see an increase in positions that are hybrid, offering some services face-to-face and others via telehealth. Similarly, the job market will likely demand employees who are well-versed in safety protocol regarding Covid and engaged with questions around equity and social justice.
Adrienne Flight: During a gap year, I recommend trying something that feels personally meaningful. Whatever that is will vary and might seem unrelated to music therapy, but personal growth and life lessons both impact the ways that we engage with people and with music, and inform who we are as clinicians.
Adrienne Flight: The advice I would give is to engage as deeply as possible with learning opportunities. Learn as much as you can about how to stay physically safe in a pandemic, how to properly clean instruments, and how to use a variety of music therapy interventions and tools. The skills that students are learning about telehealth will remain important for a long time, so I hope that students and potential employers do not underestimate the value of the experiences students are having throughout this pandemic. The same is true for all we are experiencing and learning about social justice, as these important lessons are critical to the future in the long term.
Wendy Batts: Unfortunately, the need for healthcare professionals in the exercise and rehabilitative sciences is not going away. This type of care is significant due to the continued increase in obesity rates and musculoskeletal disorders. While it is not great that our society continues to need this type of care, it is good for graduates with expertise in the field, as the demand is there and the ability to help others is paramount now more than ever.
What the pandemic has shown is that everyone can adapt in times of need and move the needle forward in areas that may have needed innovation. For example, as faculty members we were forced to shift to one hundred percent online instruction, which allowed students the chance to still participate in their classrooms and studies when face-to-face instruction was no longer an option. This was also evident in the workplace, as related to client care, as it forced health, fitness, and wellness professionals to adapt to a virtual care model.
What has become clear is there will always be a need for in-person care; however, advances in technology have allowed health professionals the opportunity to continue to see clients with some traditional barriers eliminated, as virtual care models can be delivered from and to essentially anywhere! This is exciting because not only has this created opportunity to continue to make an impact during the pandemic but has highlighted the potential to help even more individuals by leveraging technology and adapting models of care to provide ease of access to patients.
Wendy Batts: It is important that young graduates be adaptable to the changing times, focusing on developing existing skills and finding new ones as much as possible, not only to expand their breadth and depth of knowledge but to diversify what they can offer in a variety of settings and with a variety of populations. Being comfortable with identifying common risk factors for musculoskeletal conditions and how to improve them through individualized exercise programming will be very important. Also important will be developing the soft skills to be able to guide and coach clients (both in-person and virtually) on their behaviors related to health, exercise, wellness, nutrition, etc.
This will be critical to building and maintaining a strong client base and a sustainable, successful business. With advances in technology making education and learning more accessible than ever before, there are many resources available that focus on developing specific skills needed for the changing demands and environments in which professionals will be required to work. I also strongly suggest seeking out a mentor that can identify and address gaps in knowledge and other areas of opportunity to improve specific skills and abilities that will maximize success in their role or position. Seeking and receiving mentorship can be instrumental for new professionals because the guidance and expertise provided may help them avoid missteps, challenges, and obstacles that otherwise could limit or slow down their growth and success.
Wendy Batts: Relevant work experience really stands out! Whether through internship, volunteering, shadowing, prior-life-experience, etc., being able to highlight time spent in different settings and environments in the field is critical to standing out on a resume. Additionally, while this may be challenging for newer graduates initially, completing continuing education courses and certifications where one can show some versatility but also specialization in a particular area of focus, can really help differentiate applicants applying for the same position. Lastly, making the effort to connect and develop relationships with influential individuals in the place graduates are seeking employment will demonstrate the attitude and work ethic that hiring managers look for in candidates and future employees.
Ron Laham: Yes, I do think there will be an enduring impact on graduates. Most students in the RSCI program work in settings where they have direct patient-client contact (e.g., athletic training, personal training, physical therapy, massage therapy). Obviously, these industries have changed dramatically during COVID, but I think some of these changes will last beyond the pandemic. I think virtual appointments are here to stay - be that personal training, physical therapy, or even physician appointments.
Unfortunately, I also think there may be a time period where we see less opportunities within some industries before industry growth returns. We have seen closures of health clubs and gyms, layoffs and furloughs within athletic departments (as well as outright cuts to athletic programs), and cuts in staffing within clinics. It may take a while for these industries to completely recover, and they may never go back to their pre-pandemic levels. However, the use of technology may also have the effect of reinvigorating the long-term outlook, just in a different manner.
I also believe the health and fitness industry - if done properly - has a chance to promote its importance, post-pandemic. As we know, people with co-morbidities have had the most issues with the coronavirus. It is important for people to understand that some of these issues (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease) can be controlled, and maybe even eliminated, with proper nutrition and exercise. This could increase the need for rehabilitation specialists and personal trainers.
Ron Laham: I think the same skills that have always been relevant will still be important (i.e., strong communication skills, ability to adapt, time management, organizational skills, ability to work in a team). However, I think graduates will have to be more comfortable working virtually. Work on any associated skills that compliment that need. Interacting in a virtual setting requires better communication skills because you miss the nuances of non-verbal communication when face-to-face. Luckily, most should be comfortable with virtual meetings as some classes and meetings have been online during the pandemic.
Ron Laham: For me, clinical experience is what really stands out on resume; the more quality "hands on" experience one has, the better. Obviously, during the pandemic this type of experience has been difficult to come by. Therefore, now I would also look for experience with patient simulation scenarios and virtual experience.
I also look for experience at different levels (i.e., high school, college, clinic) and/or with a variety of patients or clients. For example, training and rehabilitating a high school athlete is different than training and rehabilitating an older client coming back from knee or hip replacement. Obviously, the main goal is getting a person back to a functional state, but that is vastly different for those patients!
One other thing that stands out is an applicant's desire to learn. Attendance at conferences, webinars, online learning courses, and other continuing education experiences are very important. As I state to our students at Lasell University, you should strive to be a lifelong learner; the day you think you know everything is the time you begin to know nothing.
Anna Rose Robertson Ph.D.: I think we'll see shifts in 2 major directions--one will be in the direction of technology and being able to exercise remotely more consistently, and one will be in in-person activities. There are some people and some activities that are just better in person.
Anna Rose Robertson Ph.D.: Zoom and other interactive meeting tools. Step and exercise counting tools have already been used for several years, but these may become increasingly important as well.
Anna Rose Robertson Ph.D.: Unfortunately, I think there will be a decrease in the field of Physical Education in the immediate future. With so many schools going virtual or hybrid, it becomes increasingly difficult for school districts to hire teachers when the subject area is seemingly compromised by doing exercise and sport online. However, I think they are hired in slightly different areas. For example, look at Peloton, Mirror, and other interactive workout programs. Someone with appropriate credentials is creating the programs as well as the products. It may look different, but I think there could be an overall increase in hiring in this field. Jobseekers will definitely have to be flexible and creative when it comes to looking for employment. It may not be as obvious as it once was.