February 22, 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.
Oklahoma Baptist University
University of Tennessee
Auburn University at Montgomery
Auburn University at Montgomery
Western Carolina University
The Touro College
Arlington Baptist University
Azusa Pacific University
Kristen Roberson: The workplace will forever be altered due to the pandemic, and the effects of those in career transitions, not just those graduating now, will be impacted for some time. It will take some time for the new normal to be normal.
Kristen Roberson: That depends on the role they are in, but the big hurdle is going to be landing that first role. They need to be willing to shift their plans, be ready to try contract or project-based work. No matter where they land, the ability to self-manage will be more critical than before 2020 since more work will be remote and much more video conferences, and a lot less travel.
Kristen Roberson: Beyond internships paid or unpaid, my recommendation is that recent marketing students need to spend time obtaining digital certifications that universities usually don't provide. Being able to put these on a resume could be the reason they get that Zoom interview over a similar degree student.
Dr. Daryl Green: I have been researching emerging employment trends for several years. While working for the Department of Energy as a senior engineer, I have served as a college recruiter. There were gaps in the students' skill sets compared to employers' needs. I later co-authored a book called Job Strategies for the 21st Century to provide students with the necessary tools for future employment. 2021 will be very difficult due to the pandemic. From my research, here are 2021 employment trends to consider:
-Global Market - We are connected! Since employers can tap into human resources across the world, students will compete against others across the globe.
-Students who understand this employment reality will be better prepared.
-AI and Automation - Artificial intelligence is disruptive technology. Companies can avoid the high expense of labor through automation. According to 2013 Oxford University study, nearly half of American jobs are at risk of being taken over by computers by 2033. Students need to understand AI technologies.
-New Work Model - 2020 brought in the explosion of working from home due to Covid-19. Employees already wanted to have more flexibility in life. They got it from employers. Companies responded by offering 70% of full-time workers the ability to work from home!
-Freelancing - Freelancing is part of the gig economy. It goes much further than Airbnb and Uber. In the gig economy, businesses hire independent contractors to perform individual jobs, called "gigs." The total freelancing income is almost $1 trillion. Therefore, students who have an entrepreneurial mindset will fare better.
-Digital & Ecommerce - Covid-19 ushered the digital economy. If companies did not have a digital platform in 2020 with the lockdowns, they did not exist. According to the Internet World Stats, there are currently 4,208,571, 287 internet users. Therefore, students cannot afford to miss this continuing trend of digital platforms.
Dr. Daryl Green: The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has identified eight competencies associated with career readiness. These soft skills include career management, communication, critical thinking, cultural intelligence, digital literacy, leadership, professionalism, and teamwork. Sadly, most students are not aware of employers' expectation of career readiness competencies. College students who develop these career readiness competencies will be better prepared to compete for future job opportunities.
Dr. Daryl Green: Given the on-going threats of Covid-19, recent graduates can expect varying work days. Some students are working remotely (instead of an office space). Therefore, some recent graduates may still be living with their parents. We are still adjusting to 'The New Normal.' Given this reality, students need to be flexible and adaptable to their employment situation.
University of Tennessee
Department of Economics, Haslam College of Business
Scott Gilpatric: Certainly some individuals will have an enduring impact if the pandemic really disrupted their life. For example, if they are a parent got very sick and the student became unable to continue in college, or their performance really suffered. But more broadly, I actually think we will come out the pandemic this summer with a strong economy-possibly even the strongest economic boom since the late nineties. So I think for many it will be a very good time to be starting a career.
Scott Gilpatric: That really depends on the individual. The most important factor in a first job coming out of college might be the opportunity to learn about yourself, learn what you are good at, and find a good direction for furthering your own growth in skills and understanding what you want your career to be. Obviously compensation matters, but often the work environment will impact job satisfaction more than money. Finding a place where you look forward to working with your colleagues most days is incredibly valuable, and a lot of compensation is required to offset the unpleasantness if you dread going to work every morning.
Scott Gilpatric: The easy answer is being really proficient with handling data, including being comfortable with learning to code in whatever manner might be needed. There's no question those skills are likely to open doors. But in a very different way, one thing that really matters is being able to talk comfortably about ideas and developments in economics, business, or policy areas, signaling a strong base of knowledge. Towards that end, reading deeply, not just the headlines but long-form analysis in places like The Economist and other high-quality publications can be really beneficial.
Auburn University at Montgomery
College of Business
TeWhan Hahn Ph.D.: There will be more openings for employees who are willing to work remote.
TeWhan Hahn Ph.D.: Writing skills including email writing, being able to work in teams, and knowing the workplace etiquettes.
TeWhan Hahn Ph.D.: They should be able to contribute to the increase in productivity and learn how to be patient.
Auburn University at Montgomery
Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work
Brett Lehman Ph.D.: There is a business side and a human side to this answer. On the business side, I hope graduates are provided benefits like health insurance, a gainful salary, and opportunities for advancement. The way to hit a home-run is to get a job where those needs are taken care of and you still get to use your skills for something you feel is important. Most sociology students get into the subject because they care about the human side, want to help people, and see opportunity for creating positive social change. You'll get motivated sociology graduates when you show them a path towards achievement on the human side; then when we there's less worry about the business side, some impressive results could follow!
Brett Lehman Ph.D.: It might be a surprise to say that some things will remain steady during the pandemic. The job market will still require candidates with critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, oral and written communication skills, and project management skills. With so many aspects of the workplace changing rapidly, such as how we communicate with each other and unforeseen problems adding up, these skills may be more important than ever. The ability to continue projects, collaborate, and lead a group effort during these trying times will look impressive.
Brett Lehman Ph.D.: Sociology students with research and public speaking experience will have improved job prospects. This could be developed in many courses, though some core areas for us are Research Methods and Statistics. Most employers collect and analyze data of some kind. Then they have to organize the results properly and present the findings to a variety of audiences. Any course that require students to do their own projects, make difficult decisions, justify those decisions, and then explain the results give students a leg up in critical thinking skills and much more. Students might also have similar experiences through community service, independent/supervised research projects, or an internship.
Stephen O'Connell: Recessions are a tough time to enter the job market and we're in the worst recession since the Great Depression. It remains to be seen whether the labor market will bounce back strongly, but it certainly won't bounce back in time to ease the situation of the class of '21 very much. Be ready to be persistent and resilient in your job search.
On the positive side for public policy work, the Trump Administration and the pandemic have left us with immense challenges of resuming normal, evidence-based policymaking and managing recovery from the pandemic. So public policy analysis may be a more robust area of the job market.
Stephen O'Connell: Work that uses your skills and builds new ones. There is a premium on your own flexibility over the couple of years, with a lot of job-market volatility due to uncertain structural impacts of the pandemic.
Stephen O'Connell: The organization, presentation and interpretation of data are probably particularly valued. Comfort with all kinds of online productivity tools. As always, capacity for critical thinking. For now especially, ability to work independently within a team that meets only remotely.
Angela Sebby Ph.D.: While jobs may be slower to return to the capacity pre-Covid, the industry and tourism employment will rebound as people still want to travel and explore diverse foods, cultures, and experiences. However, the enduring impact will be the rapid onset of technology that allowed for limited contact with employees and others has become the new norm. Although human interaction is an important aspect of service in the tourism industry, employers have found that they can reduce the number of personal interactions but still deliver an acceptable level of quality service. What would have taken years to adopt, COVID created an amplified adoption.
Angela Sebby Ph.D.: It depends on which area of tourism one would like to go into (hotels, country clubs, event planning, attractions, etc.) and how quickly that industry will bounce back after the vaccines are administered. Therefore, all students should make sure that they pay attention to the diverse sectors, look for trends and adaptations in the industry, gather experience while going to college, network with those in the industry, consider appropriate certifications, and be willing to relocate. So, although the initial job out of college might not be the "dream" job, it is important for graduates to create a personal strategic plan to acquire the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for the dream job. I would suggest investing time and attention to jobs that offer exceptional customer service, concentrate on training and development, and are aligned with the graduate's core values.
Angela Sebby Ph.D.: Business, creative, and organizational skills - I would recommend that upcoming graduates are proficient in Word, Excel (highly used), Powerpoint, Outlook (especially how to send meeting requests and calendar organization), TEAMS, Gantt charts for team management, Mindmapping for creativity, and design software. Additionally, I would recommend that they learn how to properly utilize social media for marketing and PR, not just personal posting. Finally, email etiquette would be essential.
The Touro College
Career Services Department
Jodi Smolen: I think this depends on the industry. Finance students give themselves an advantage by taking the Securities Industry Essential (SIE) exam during college. The exam does not require employer sponsorship and it is good for 4 years. If students want to become a securities trader, investment banker, or financial advisor, the SIE exam is a necessary step before they take the Series 6 and 7 exams after graduation. It shows a prospective employer that the student is serious about a career in the financial services industry.
In addition, finance students should hone their advanced Excel skills. Whether they do this in college, or on their own time, knowing Pivot Tables and VLOOKUP will set them apart from other candidates.
Computer science students should know that Python is in strong demand. If they know the basics of this language, they will have more job opportunities in different industries. Similarly, many data science jobs require Python, SQL or R programming languages. Candidates who pick up programming languages easily can learn on the job, but it is always more desirable to walk into the job knowing the language they want to use.
Jodi Smolen: Given the pandemic, new employees must be very proactive. They may be working from home--so they need to speak up, ask for advice and make sure they are delivering what is needed. They are missing out on those chance meetings in the hallway--so they may have to schedule Zoom sessions with peers or supervisors to touch base more often.
Students in marketing need to be savvy with social media. They need to be comfortable posting and following on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. Companies are looking for ways to meet their clients in comfortable spaces.
Given the pandemic, I think job trends are subject to change. Companies are still figuring out when/if they will be able to return to the office. Some firms are fully in-person while others are rotating staff in and out of the office, so they are not at full capacity. As business picks up for companies, I see they will be able and willing to hire more employees to handle the influx. At Touro College, our students receive a superior education. As marketing students, they should compile a portfolio of class projects as they move through their classes and add anything they create on their own time as well.
Todd Terry: The pandemic has caused many existing businesses to scale back or go out of business. This disruption provides an avenue for the entrepreneur to excel. Areas that should experience entrepreneurial growth may include, technology, supply chain management with an emphasis on product delivery to the end consumer. Risk management is another sector that will experience growth. The business world is experiencing something it never had realized before with the pandemic, and this brings to the forefront the need to be prepared for such another type of experience. Online retail management is a sector that has experienced growth during the pandemic and is becoming the norm. Customers have adapted well to this concept of ordering products online and having them delivered to their door step. This practice turns into a time saving opportunity for the customer, and an opportunity for the entrepreneur to provide a service with in the supply chain.
Todd Terry: Graduates as they prepare to enter the workforce should pay particular attention to their ability to communicate with coworkers. This communication could happen through face-to-face interactions, remote meetings with the aid of technology for example, meeting by computer software, written communication through instant messaging, or emails. Also, part of communicating is being a good listener.
Graduates should have good critical thinking skills. They will need to be adaptive and able to analyze data to make good informed decisions.
In today's work environment, working on teams is a regular function. Therefore, employers are looking for the candidate who can professionally interact with other team members, have a positive attitude and a good work ethic.
Todd Terry: What once was well defined with working hours, an office space, coworkers being close by to develop relationships with seems to be misplaced during the current working environment. In the working situation we are in today, graduates will need to be flexible with working hours as work hours may not be defined and could change by day. Office space may mean that one is working remotely from home. Building of relationships with coworkers will be done using technology as coworkers may be located in many different areas or time zones.
In general business will continue to function remotely. The pandemic has created a sense of creativity in how business is done. The one major component the pandemic has created is where large and small businesses are conducting daily business functions from remote locations. This practice has proven that business can be effectively done without having to travel to distant locations. Consequently, business travel will be continue to be slow.
Meaghan Goodman Ph.D.: At this point it is hard to say. Certainly, there were immediate impacts as students and professors alike shifted to learning and teaching in a virtual world. Some students had to tackle online learning while sharing resources like Wi-Fi with parents and other siblings. Long term, it is possible that coronavirus may impact hiring for the foreseeable future. With more money needing to be shifted towards personal protective equipment, and cleaning procedures and supplies, many businesses including hospital systems and school districts will be taking a closer look at their bottom line.
I do think this pandemic highlighted a need for highly skilled Speech-Language Pathologists. For some, contracting COVID-19 meant intubation (a procedure in which a tube in inserted through the mouth and into the trachea to provide breathing support for critically ill patients). We are often consulted for patients requiring prolonged intubation. After a patient has intubation removed, we are often consulted in evaluating damage to a patient's swallow as well as their vocal quality. Because of the nature of intubation, patients aren't able to speak, so alternative forms of communication must be established, lending another opportunity for a Speech-Language Pathologists to demo
Meaghan Goodman Ph.D.: A bachelor's in communication sciences and disorders can prepare you for three different tracks. First, it can prepare you to become a licensed Speech-Language Pathology Assistant (SLPA). This is someone who works under a fully credential speech-language pathologist. Often times, they carryout intervention plans developed by a fully credentialed speech-language pathologist. If graduate school is on your horizon, a bachelor's degree in communication sciences and disorders will prepare you for acceptance into a Speech-Language Pathology program, or an Audiology program. If you are not accepted into a graduate program right away, working as a speech-language pathology assistant (SLPA) is a great way to get experience in the field!
Meaghan Goodman Ph.D.: Speech-Language Pathologists help people improve their speech, language, swallowing, hearing, and other communication abilities. The goal of our profession is ultimately to help people effectively communicate and improve quality of life. Therefore, the skills that standout to employers are Speech-Language Pathologists who
-Like to think critically and problem solve,
-Are passionate about the field and demonstrate a desire to continually learn more,
-Are dedicated to serving people and helping them live their best lives,
-And those who possess strong advocacy skills!
Arlington Baptist University
Department of Business Studies
Peggy Smith: As a result of the pandemic which has created life anew to include social distancing, quarantining, virtual learning, an increase in home schooling and working from home, etc., telecommuting will no longer be considered a luxury for companies to offer as a special benefit. In an effort to remain solvent, companies are and will continue to revisit the way that their businesses are structured thereby offering more telecommuting opportunities. Thus, hiring workers with the requisite technical savvy has become, without equivocation, a must! As a result, what we may see is that those workers who are either approaching or have reached retirement age may opt to literally retire now as opposed to putting it off to a later date (which may have been a part of their original plan). In so doing, this will very likely provide a myriad of opportunities for the younger workforce.
Peggy Smith: It is my fervent belief (based on research and trends) that the technical skills associated with IT, computer programming, software management, social media specialist, customer relations management (CRM), sales, & marketing will be in high demand particularly as we navigate this new normal world in which we are currently living.
Peggy Smith: A graduate would very likely do quite well in procuring employment in the healthcare field possibly in pharmaceutical sales, management, practice management, etc. In addition, digital marketing, programming, and web development appear to be on the rise.
Bala Musa Ph.D.: Remote working and telecommuting will continue to grow proportionately, as part of organizational operations. Self-managed teams, global collaborations and machine-learning will be among the biggest trends in organizations of the future.
Bala Musa Ph.D.: Digital literacy, cultural literacy, information technology, data management and human communication skills courses and certifications will continue to be relevant in the workplace.
Bala Musa Ph.D.: A good job out of college is one that allows you to apply creative and critical thinking skills. Future work environments will require employees to innovate and adapt. Any job that helps you cultivate, sharpen and apply those skills will serve you and your organization well. It will prepare you to adapt in the face of change and future disruptions.