November 20, 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.
The University of Maine
Murray State University
Idaho State University
Seminole State College
Murray State University
St. Norbert College
Grand Valley State University
Government & Politics Department
Dr. Abraham Unger Ph.D.: Most importantly, graduates entering the workforce will need flexibility. If there's one thing COVID has taught us, it is to be able to jump into new ways of thinking and new technologies quickly and seamlessly. The traditional 9 to 5 workspace was already eroding, as tech showed us, but that kind of a malleable tech work culture is now the norm. This is true in public administration no less than in any other field. The government, too, is trying to figure out how to restructure its resources to meet this moment. Suddenly, government employees are figuring out how to manage their portfolios virtually, and it's hard because public offices require a lot more firewalling and unique kinds of technologies in the type of data they make use of, so a student going out into the field has to be prepared to practice administration in a way that may not have been taught, because it's being invented as we speak.
Dr. Abraham Unger Ph.D.: Public Administration is a big enough field to allow a student to choose the same location as any other area. It all depends on whether the student prefers to work in a local, state, or federal agency if they're interested in government. If they're interested in, for example, a non-profit position, the recent graduate can also look anywhere, just as in any other career. The larger agencies, such as on the federal level, with be in D.C. or major cities with national agency branch offices. It's the same with the State Government. For example, New York State agencies headquartered in Albany often have offices in Manhattan. Larger organizations in any sector will offer more opportunities in larger cities, but that's not universally true, and we'll see a year or two out from now, for those just declaring their public administration majors now, if COVID has a lasting impact on the relocation of organizations to lower density areas outside of major cities. That's a national issue. It sure seems like former urban residents are moving in droves to less crowded communities. Will institutions follow?
Dr. Abraham Unger Ph.D.: There's been pressure on the government since the E-Government Act of 2002 to make technology more a part of the way Americans interface with our government. It has had mixed results, but the impetus has been there for a while. COVID has made it pressing. Courts have to function. Regulatory agencies have to work. Private contractors of government and other forms of public, private partnerships have to act. Digital natives, students graduating now and entering public administration, are equipped to advance this compelling need. It's also good for democracy, which was the point behind the legislation that made e-government a reality. It's about transparency and access, and both of those together create equity, and there is no more an essential social issue right now than equity. Public Administration is, after all, about the implementation of equity for all Americans.
The University of Maine
Department of Political Science
Robert Ballingall Ph.D.: I'm no expert in labor markets, so it's hard for me to say with any authority what trends we're likely to see going forward. Certainly small-business employment, particularly in the hospitality sector, has taken a massive hit as a result of the pandemic and the mismanagement of the Paycheck Protection Program. Employment connected to state and local governments has also been adversely affected as states and municipalities have been unable to run deficits due to balanced budget laws yet haven't received much help from the federal government, which can and should run deficits during such a crisis. The fiscal crunch facing state and local governments is likely the bigger factor weighing on the employment prospects of graduates in political science, many of whom seek careers in the public sector or in sectors closely connected to it.
Robert Ballingall Ph.D.: As for the sorts of technology that will become more important and prevalent, I do think there is a palpable appetite to return to working face to face. Perhaps the pandemic experience of platforms like Zoom will encourage employers and employees alike to be more flexible, but it's hard to imagine the kind of exodus from the office envisioned in some quarters. One technology-driven trend that we're seeing affect the prospects of political science grads in particular is the long-term contraction of the legal and paralegal profession. Many political science students plan to go on to law school, so this trend should be borne in mind.
Robert Ballingall Ph.D.: Happily, there has at the same time been a strong expansion of demand for the more general expertise associated with political science, whether in foreign or domestic policy, international or constitutional law, or in the critical analysis of class, race, and gender. Political science grads continue to do well as employers recognize the need for solid competency in these areas. Indeed, I would wager that there will be an increase in demand for graduates of political science in the next five years.
Dr. James Clinger Ph.D.: Graduates will need a variety of both hard and soft skills when they enter the workforce. See the following link to see this discussed: https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/trends-and-research/2020/most-in-demand-hard-and-soft-skills. Basically, the soft skills would include an ability to collaborate with others and to get along well with fellow employees, superiors, and members of the public. It would also include some ability to work flexibly as circumstances change.
The hard skills needed would depend upon the job position. Obviously, STEM-H jobs require some technical, analytical, and mathematical skills and knowledge. Knowing how to use computers is important in most careers these days. For all positions, a good work ethic and good manners are an asset. Many job vacancies can only be filled by applicants who pass a drug test. I also would recommend that applicants refrain from posting rude, crude, and profane content on social media. Many employers look at that sort of thing.
Dr. James Clinger Ph.D.: People in my field are hired all over, but obviously, some areas of the country are growing more than others. Sunbelt is growing significantly. There are a few tech centers on the west and east coasts that are growing, although those are not necessarily the ideal places for applicants with degrees from my department to go. People from my degree programs will often work in government, so state capitals or Washington, DC, are good places to find jobs. The major metro areas have been big employers, but I don't know if that will continue.
Dr. James Clinger Ph.D.: Technology is always changing, and workers will have to change with it. Students with good technical skills will be more marketable, but the specific skills that they have will be out of date in a few years. What applicants will need to have is a good basic understanding of technology and an aptitude for learning new things. That is something old fogies, such as myself, do not always have.
Obviously, good mathematical backgrounds will help. Technology may shape where new jobs will appear. Obviously, the tech centers such as Silicon Valley, the Boston area, Cary, NC, Seattle, Austin, Portland, etc. will do well, at least until other forces overwhelm their present advantages. The unrest in some cities, including Seattle and Portland, is not advantageous for the job market. At some point, the Boston and San Francisco housing markets and the general high cost of living will discourage more in-migration. Perhaps, the tipping point has already been reached.
One consequence of the internet economy is that it is no longer necessary to live close to an office or an industrial center to carry out certain kinds of jobs. As we have seen during the COVID pandemic, classes can be taught online or over Zoom, telemedicine can handle many health problems, the software can be written from a home computer, and news reporting can largely be done away from the news-worthy events. We might see a dispersion of the population, in which people settle far from where their official workplace is located.
Idaho State University
Political Science Department
Mark McBeth: Public administration is a broad field. Graduates need a wide variety of knowledge and skills as they enter the workforce. Foremost, the ability to write and think critically is essential for any beginning public administration student. Additionally, understanding the role of a public administrator is crucial, as well as, understanding the political context in which public administrators operate.
Ethics is always important for public administrators, and this includes understanding the role of a public administrator and expertise in a democratic form of government along with an understanding of how public administrators interact with elected officials and political appointees. A well rounded public administration graduate should understand public personnel management, organizational leadership, group facilitation, budgeting, analysis, and have some technical skills in program assessment, GIS, or data analysis.
Mark McBeth: State and local governments and non-profit groups are going to be the best places for work opportunities. While urban areas are always good markets for PA graduates, graduates can also find good PA positions in smaller areas and rural areas.
Mark McBeth: Public administration graduates should have some technical skills, including database management, spreadsheet analysis, GIS, and the ability to do some statistical analysis. It is possible that the popularity of platforms such as Zoom could impact how public administrators run meetings. Perhaps Zoom, or similar platforms, will be used in gathering citizen input, instead of more traditional town hall meetings. The PA graduate should always have good facilitation skills, and these skills might now be used in conjunction with new technology.
Nicholas Clark Ph.D.: I think graduates will need some experience or skills working with data, including both analysis and visualization. These graduates will need to be able to write clearly and concisely. And, increasingly, be able to work on a team and to dialogue with individuals with whom they might disagree. The country has been so hyper-polarized for so long, even in the realm of public policy. I do not think that will go away, but increasingly, there will be a focus on being able to work with both ideologies.
Nicholas Clark Ph.D.: I think civil service continues to grow at the local level. We may even enter a period in which we see more tasks delegated down to state and local levels. So, I would argue that any mid-size, growing metropolitan area is going to be a hot place to find public policy jobs. I think we are about to see greater emphasis placed on eco-friendly policies and so that would also be an attractive area of expertise.
Nicholas Clark Ph.D.: I think more tasks will be increasingly automated, even in government. So some experience with systems management will be useful. Working in public policy, understanding how to manage the demands and needs of a digital workforce will be essential. I expect we will not fully return to an in-person workforce after the pandemic, so developing skills and abilities to be productive through digital collaboration will be essential.
Tracy Harbin: They need to understand the importance of public service not as a politician running for office but as an analyst who is willing to work in the public sector to support the functions of our government at all levels. While people may not have said, "I want to be a civil servant when I grow up," our government agencies at all levels need talented, thoughtful, and intelligent people are serving in the public sector.
Tracy Harbin: I think we will continue to see a need for folks who understand how to leverage social media and stay apprised of the ever-changing trends in apps and platforms. Even though young people are digital natives, we still must meet them where they are in terms of digital platforms and not expect that they are going to "just find the information" on the web.
Tracy Harbin: I hope the enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic on graduates will be one of resiliency. I feel as though many of us have had to reimagine how we conduct work, what our new workspaces look like, and how we have had to remain very flexible in uncertain times. I think that if graduates can take what feels uncomfortable and difficult now and communicate how adaptable and flexible they can be, employers will want them on their team.
Department of Political Science
Bruce Nesmith: Almost certainly... people were still digging out from the recession 12 years ago. So probably lasting impact on opportunities and earnings.
Bruce Nesmith: I think local governments will be in particular need of political science students, whether in planning or administration or some other aspect. Financial stress, aging infrastructure, and loss of support from financially-stressed state and national governments will force local governments to explore new ideas and approaches. For the nationally-minded, there seems never to be a shortage of need for lawyers, lobbyists, and campaign workers, too.
Bruce Nesmith: It's going to change mobility, I think, both in terms of day-to-day personal mobility (driverless cars?) and especially for young people's ability to telecommute from all sorts of places. AND YET, the office persists because there's value in face-to-face meetings. So I think the impact will be limited.
Dr. Rich Clark Ph.D.: The bachelor's in political science prepares students for careers with government, non-profits, and businesses in the private sector. Learning and mastering the process of social science research teaches students to ask insightful questions and design a means for testing hypotheses. In the post-COVID workforce, employees need to understand data-driven decision making and probability thinking to make the best possible decisions. Because we have found that our advancements in science and medicine have outpaced our ability to manage the public response to scientific information, the application of social science is more critical than ever in helping to influence public opinion. Like any liberal arts degree, the political science degree also fosters skills that prepare students for a wide range of careers in our ever-changing economy.
Keith Reeves: This will seem like a rather odd response, but I would strongly encourage a newly-minted graduate to be "intellectually curious." Demonstrating the ability to explore "hunches" and hypotheses, and ask more profound analytical questions. I can promise you that you'll enjoy that assignment more, but more importantly, it'll propel you to a promising and professionally satisfying career.
Keith Reeves: I believe Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping and spatial analysis will be extraordinarily critical in the years ahead. GIS and spatial analysis are essential tools that help analysts visually discern underlying spatial patterns and relationships that may not be obvious in a statistical table, cost-benefit, or regression analysis. Take any policy domain -- the achievement gap in education; racial disparities in prison sentencing; disaster response; and even Covid-19 vaccine demands in public health infrastructure -- and geospatial intelligence will play an integral role in problem-solving.
Keith Reeves: Unfortunately, I'm afraid so with local, state, and business budgets in such a free-fall as a result of the pandemic. And yet, these graduates will be in even higher demand by both the public and private sectors.
Hunter Baker Ph.D.: Graduate work is highly valued. Law degrees are excellent complements to undergraduate work in political science. Campaign work is also worthwhile. You'll do a lot of grunt work, but it pays off within 2-3 years or more quickly.
Hunter Baker Ph.D.: Social media is essential to political campaigns. It is replacing direct mail and phone banks. Research, the kind that can go deep, is also valuable.
Hunter Baker Ph.D.: I think it will make it harder to get the first job. But that has always been true in politics and government. The first job is hard to get, but once you establish contacts, you can have an excellent career. I also suspect that working in distant locations will gain greater acceptance than in other areas of the economy.
Dr. Ihsan Alkhatib: Yes. A pandemic is not an ordinary occurrence.
There will be an enduring impact on the whole country. As to work opportunities - some corporations are looking into reducing the on-site work week and being more flexible. That's a good thing for graduates. As to job opportunities, how long before the economy improves, and we see the US economy operating at the Pre-COVID level? That's a key question. Flexibility is critical for employee and employer.
Dr. Ihsan Alkhatib: It used to be that a graduate has the best chance of landing an internship or a job in big cities. With more remote work opportunities, the location might not be as important anymore.
Dr. Ihsan Alkhatib: It is often said that a job that a machine can do, eventually, a device will be doing. Machines cannot do the work that our students do in the private sector and the government sector.
Dr. Wendy Scattergood: While students are in our program, we emphasize and offer various experiences that not only help prepare students for careers in political science, but help give them networks of people to call on for jobs after graduation. For example, we have internships, a Washington Semester program, etc., that help connect students to people working in the field. We have a vast alumni network and use social media to connect current students with former students. In the past, our alums have been great helping out recent graduates, and I would strongly encourage recent graduates to reach out to their faculty. Use any social media their departments have to network with alumni.
It's essential to think about all the different careers available to Political Science majors, and each one will be impacted differently by current events.
Elections -- canvassing is still a go-to method in campaigns, especially for younger workers. Some battles are again doing this, but with precautions in place. Working on elections is an excellent way to network for recent graduates.
Law school & graduate school - Many of our students aim for law school in particular after graduation. So far, there has been a limited impact, though, just like the rest of us, course delivery will be impacted.
Local, state, and federal governments - see below
Nonprofits - I think there are opportunities here - while a lot of people are struggling, in a way that increases the demand for the services of nonprofits and, at the same time, people who can seem to be donating to these organizations, though, as with businesses, the types of nonprofits that are benefitting right now might be different from those in the recent past.
Corporations - government affairs divisions & lobbying groups - I don't think there will be a significant impact here. However, the types of businesses that will be hiring could change, based on those who see recent events as an opportunity to secure government funding.
Dr. Wendy Scattergood: Working with big data. This will become more prevalent in campaigns, in government work, particularly at the federal and industry levels. For Political Science majors, I would say that you are getting Statistics and research methods as part of your curriculum.
As for other technologies, I think it depends on the different careers students are interested in. For those interested in security studies, for example, the technological advances in satellites, drones, listening devices, online intel collection, etc., will be continually evolving.
Dr. Wendy Scattergood: One of the things I worry about, for graduates and all of us, is the pandemic's impact on local government budgets. There are about 90,000 governments in the United States, so that means a lot of jobs for Political Science majors, but I think, for the moment, a lot of that might be on hold.
However, offsetting that is, several studies have shown that at the local, state, and federal levels, there is a large portion of these government workforces that will be retiring over the next several years, and this will be a tremendous opportunity for graduates.
As with all changes to our economy, some jobs go by the wayside, while others open up, and I think Covid-19 will be no different. Temporary careers for graduates might be in contact with tracing, for example.
Steven Schier: The economy is highly uncertain right now, but by the end of the 2020-21 academic year, it's likely the virus will be contained, and economic growth will be underway. Majors in political science and government will, thus, find increasing opportunities in the non-profit and governmental sectors as we return to more typical economic conditions.
Steven Schier: Proficiency in widely used statistical programs and experience with social media will be beneficial. Be prepared to think broadly about career first steps. Consider options that you may not have considered before. Unexpected opportunities may be the most useful to you.
Christina Farhart: In talking with my students this spring and summer, I have tried to remind them of three items:
First, their training is highly versatile, covering deep engagement with relevant political questions and theory, detailed writing and assessment skills, oral communication and presentation skills, as well as data collection and quantitative and qualitative data analysis. Given their versatile training, they are well-prepared to enter into a wide range of professional spaces.
Second, be flexible and open to unexpected or unplanned opportunities, e.g., work with nonprofits or upcoming elections. Looped into this is an encouragement to engage in broad employment searches with an eye toward areas of interest, especially if they can find experience in an issue area they are passionate about.
Third, be flexible with and seek to work with different communication styles, be open to new technologies, and continue to learn more about changing political context and new and developing technologies.
Christina Farhart: Not only in the fields of political science and government but widely across professional spaces, I expect the use of online communication tools such as Zoom and Slack to grow. As we all learn about creative and flexible ways to communicate, I hope these types of applications to become mainstays, even after we can return to primary, in-person workspaces.
Christina Farhart: I think only time will tell about the extent of the pandemic on graduates and the broader job market.
Jennifer Sacco Ph.D.: I believe entering the workforce this year will be slower than average. Many employers who cannot do work remotely have probably put freezes on hiring, given the uncertainty of the pandemic's length, and because it may be more logistically challenging to process. But, for workplaces where workers can work remotely, hiring may become more comfortable as the pandemic stretches on, as more employers become adept at using conferencing tools like Zoom, and personal appointments become much more convenient to schedule when there is no commute involved, and less expensive if there are no meals or overnight travel.
The economic situation will impact state budgets. Still, some services, like processing unemployment claims and maintaining public health records, are essential and are likely to require more employees, not fewer. Additional relief from Congress to the states would likely be necessary to fund this, but it seems inevitable, the question is how soon.
Elizabeth Radziszewski Ph.D.: My general advice would be to pick opportunities that give you a chance to get as much involved in a project as possible, regardless of pay and prestige. Getting a chance, for example, to grow an initiative that improves something in the community or brings change to an organization, are the kind of responsibilities that will allow graduates to improve a variety of skills vital in today's economy: critical thinking, creative thinking, flexibility, innovative thinking. Suppose you work on a project that allows you to grow in these areas to set you up for better opportunities in the future. So my recommendation is to look for how much your job responsibilities will give you a chance to achieve this growth, even if it means forgoing prestige and better-paying opportunities. Those will come, once you develop the right skills with the right projects you're involved with.
Elizabeth Radziszewski Ph.D.: In terms of technology - anything related to big data analysis is the future. It's already here, knowing how to handle and make sense of data using statistical software helps a great deal. A lot of emphasis on GIS software (Geographic Information Systems) to link political changes/dynamics to geography has been with us in recent years. I think this trend will continue. Second, and not technology but more of a human-centered focus to problem-solving that we see in the business world is going to matter even more in political science, and developing a fluid understanding of design thinking, creativity, and empathy. Those are the kind of skills that will matter just as much as technology. Being able to have those skills, along with the ability to analyze data, is critical in the future.
Elizabeth Radziszewski Ph.D.: Coronavirus reminds us that flexibility and creative thinking are going to matter even more. We underestimate how much creative thinking plays a role in the job. With the virus pushing employers to change the way they operate and prepare for the unexpected, thinking creatively will be a skill that will matter. Candidates who adopt and become fluid in this type of thinking will continue to succeed. So opportunities will be there; it depends on whether the graduates will adapt to the world where change is a constant and requires that ability to think outside the box. Increasingly, colleges are recognizing this need to cultivate creative thinking skills. We have Centers and certificate programs in places like SUNY Buffalo or the University of Dayton, for example, where students are already learning how to be more innovative, and working on projects where they learn to apply these skills to tackle the so-called wicked or complex problems, the kind of the issues we are likely to face more of in the COVID-19 world.
Donald Zinman Ph.D.: Be open and willing to do a nationwide job search. Step out of your comfort zone. Don't pursue graduate programs if you have to take out student loans.
Donald Zinman Ph.D.: Statistics software.
Donald Zinman Ph.D.: Yes. Government and politics are more intertwined than ever with science and healthcare.