September 29, 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.
Pennsylvania State University - Harrisburg
School of Public Affairs, Criminal Justice Program
Jennifer Gibbs Ph.D.: Police officers need many skills to be successful on the job. The most important are written and oral communication skills and the ability to make ethical decisions with limited information quickly. Written communications skills are crucial. If a police report is poorly worded or incomplete, it can derail a criminal case. Police officers also need to talk to people of all ages from all walks of life in any circumstance. Often, police meet people on what may be the worst day of their lives when emotions are running high. Police need to be able to help calm a person while gathering information. Police need to be able to use their words and body language to empathize with someone who has been victimized, and they need to project authority, so people making poor decisions obey their commands.
This may be common sense, but research has demonstrated that communication and ethical decision-making skills are important for police officers. (See the research article published in 2017 in the Journal of Criminal Justice Education, entitled "An assessment of the relative importance of criminal justice learning objectives," by Baker and colleagues.) Baker and colleagues asked students, professionals, and college professors to rate the skills of hypothetical job applicants. These participants rated the following as the most important characteristics for criminal justice applicants (including law enforcement officers):
Sensitivity to diversity
Written communication skills
Jennifer Balboni: Yes! Without question, over the last year, the pandemic has impacted nearly every occupation around the globe. These effects were felt most keenly in the medical field, but the impact in the criminal justice field has been incredibly steep as well, and the changes for police, courts, and corrections promise to be around even once this pandemic is more under control. First, it's important to note that police professionals are currently managing twin crises: the pandemic and public tumult stemming from a series of well-publicized needless deaths of young African Americans at the hands of police. It's nearly impossible to disentangle the impact of the pandemic from the impact of the crisis of legitimacy in policing, as these are happening simultaneously. This means that, in addition to the stressors of the job related to the pandemic, policing right now is fundamentally more stressful. As the public demands reform, organizations are shifting their priorities in response. New graduates who wish to pursue law enforcement would be wise to identify agencies that share their value system and commitment to justice so that they are part of this field's positive evolution.
In the fields of corrections and the courts, the implications of the pandemic are equally important-- although much less discussed in the media. Courts are currently facing significant backlogs (few juries have been convened during the last year-leaving a logjam of many open criminal cases). Correctional institutions have used the pandemic as the impetus to de-carcerate, which shifts responsibilities from institutional to community corrections, as those released are often in need of support services in order to be successful. Analysts predict that the reduction in the incarcerated population could bring some savings to local and state budgets, and this may provide some pressure to make the efforts to de-carcerate more permanent. Both of these fields are adapting and it is likely that the pandemic's impact will be long-lasting.
While new graduates certainly will be facing unprecedented challenges in their new professional roles, it's important to consider that this stress can also bring significant opportunity. If necessity is the mother of invention, then creative and energetic graduates may have more opportunity to implement innovative responses they've learned about in college in these fields in the near future.
Jennifer Balboni: For those interested in law enforcement, coursework in community policing is critical for new graduates to have as a foundational background. Recognizing the importance of working with the community is absolutely vital to agencies establishing legitimacy within communities. In addition, coursework and/or certifications in (white collar) fraud examination, emergency management, and cybercrime investigations are an excellent background for new grads who are interested in law enforcement and investigations; each of these fields has increasingly been recognized as integral to successful planning and investigations in the criminal justice realm. In addition, fluency in a different language is always an asset in the criminal justice job market.
Jennifer Balboni: It's certainly been said before, but soft skills-the ability to communicate effectively with different individuals and groups, as well as the ability to advocate for others--are key competencies in the justice field. Being able to communicate with others, as well as understand and empathize with others--is a vital skill in this field.
More technically, graduates who are able to navigate the virtual/digital world will be prepared to help agencies transition to build more permanent digital programming into the fields of corrections, courts, and law enforcement moving forward. The digital programming that has cropped up as a result of this pandemic is likely not going away entirely once the pandemic is more under control-people like the flexibility it provides. The same is true in the justice realm: virtual connections have been integrated in various processes, facilitating important connections between support services and folks involved in the justice system.
La Sierra University
Criminal Justice Program
T.Christopher Bell: The enduring impact is that we now know we can work remotely. We can file reports online; we can conduct investigations, Background Investigations remotely, and expand our reach nationwide. Also, our hygiene has dramatically improved.
T.Christopher Bell: The skills graduates will need are much improved in VERBAL COMMUNICATIONS skills-the ability to de-escalate and resolve conflict through verbal communication. Students who are majoring in Criminal Justice must be able to understand multiculturalism. The ability to understand different and not perceive it as harmful.
T.Christopher Bell: Students who have good critical thinking skills, communication skills and those that can adapt and improvise will do well in the 21st century. Also, students who have interned, volunteered, or worked in any capacity and showed their ability to be a TEAM PLAYER would have successful careers.
University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh
Department of Criminal Justice
Dr. Durmus Alper CAMLIBEL Ph.D.: We will see an increasing trend in law enforcement job applications because of unemployment, layoff, and furloughs in other job sectors. These may include people who see that law enforcement is a stable and well-paid career option and have never considered law enforcement as part of their career aspirations before.
Some police agencies reported that despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent controversial incidents involving the use of force by police and attacks on officers in the line of duty have not decreased the number of applications to their agencies. For example, it was reported that applications to the Naperville Illinois Police Department doubled after the Minneapolis protests began. Other trends will be transformations in the recruitment processes of agencies to attract candidates with diverse backgrounds. Several law enforcement agencies are now waving application fees to attract more qualified applicants. Some law enforcement agencies' recruitment process resembles the private sectors' hiring methods, including open and continuous recruitment and "Headhunting" recruits. During the pandemic period, the criminal justice agencies are primarily using social media platforms to promote their agencies when in-person attendance to schools' career fairs are canceled.
COVID-19 has forced many law enforcement agencies to transform their recruitment practices and cancel or limit in-person examinations. Some law enforcement agencies already transitioned from in-person to virtual screening during their online application process. For example, candidates are now submitting their application materials via a Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) website. After applicants passed the screening phase, the MPD test them at their testing sites in 29 states across the country. Suppose any candidates do not feel comfortable to take the entrance exam in a testing site due to a pandemic. In that case, they can take the exam at home via remote exam proctoring.
The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) 2019 survey found that approximately 75% of responding police agencies have altered recruitment and hiring approaches. This report also suggested that law enforcement agencies should cancel or adjust polygraphs and physical fitness assessments to make their application process more efficient and faster.
Dr. Durmus Alper CAMLIBEL Ph.D.: They need to avoid being overzealous officers. They should not put their career at the center of their life. They need to spend quality time with their family. In law enforcement, good relations with the public and colleagues are essential. They need to develop good relationships with the people and their colleagues and expand their professional network. They always try to be a "problem solver officer" rather than a "problem creator officer." If someone asks for help from them, they should treat this person with dignity and respect. They should avoid being arrogant in their interaction with the public. Because arrogance is the worst plague, and Humility is the greatest virtue.