January 16, 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.
Pamela Jo Johnson Ph.D. MPH: Given the pandemic, I believe that we will see an increased demand for MPH-prepared professionals from all specializations. Epidemiologists will most certainly be at the forefront as the public health workforce needs to be better prepared for the next epidemic/pandemic. But epidemiologists work in other areas besides infectious diseases. Epidemiologists also work in cancer, chronic disease, injury prevention, and maternal child health, for example.
There will also be a need for MPH professionals trained in areas such as community health leadership, health education and health promotion, and health management (which are all MPH specialization areas). The pandemic revealed stark disparities in who was most likely to contract SARS-CoV-2 and who was mostly likely to die from it. These are disparities we also see in many, if not most, health conditions. MPH professionals from a variety of specializations will play a critical role in trying to mitigate some of these ongoing challenges in all areas of health.
Pamela Jo Johnson Ph.D. MPH: Data management and analysis is a skillset that is always in demand, whether in a state or local health department, a community agency, a tribal health office, or a healthcare setting. Public health is good at collecting data, but there is often a lack of capacity for analyzing the data. Not every MPH specialization emphasizes data analysis, but I would encourage all MPH students to take research methods and data analysis courses. These skills will really stand out on a resume.
Communication skills go beyond just being able to speak and write well. It requires skill in framing, messaging, and delivering critical and potentially controversial messages in ways that reach a variety of different audiences. In addition to communicating health promotion messages to the public, skills in communicating to policymakers and in crisis communication will be essential.
When applying for jobs, a cover letter is almost always required. This is the place to really describe and emphasize these skills and experiences.
Pamela Jo Johnson Ph.D. MPH: Master of Public Health graduates are in high demand everywhere in the US and around the world. As we've seen over the past 10 months, there has been a shortage in the public health workforce. We have learned a lot during this time, and I believe that we will be bolstering our public health workforce with MPH-prepared public health professionals in every possible setting.
Kansas State University
Department of Curriculum & Instruction
Janine Duncan Ph.D.: Given the background provided, the pandemic has only highlighted the importance of Family & Consumer Sciences programs in middle and high school. Both individually and as family members, understanding disease prevention in terms of safety and sanitation, nutrition and wellness, and exercise and fitness for optimum wellbeing is essential. The challenging social environment has highlighted the importance of social and emotional health across one's lifespan, as individuals and families confront isolation and loneliness by introducing new and old strategies for communication. Technology has certainly played a role (family FaceTime or Zoom sessions): phone calls to those near and far and even letter writing has helped people feel less isolated. As work and school moved to online formats, Family & Consumer Sciences educators have used the opportunity to model and emphasize appropriate professional practices and etiquette in the virtual environment, which are important features of employability. This is of course in addition to the importance of good health stewardship in the workplace. Family & Consumer Sciences educators draw on their broad field of expertise and their pedagogy to respond to the needs of their students and community.
Given the national, regional, and local shortages of Family & Consumer Sciences educators, the job market continues to look good for those pursuing a career in the field. The pandemic has only highlighted the relevance and import of Family & Consumer Sciences.
Janine Duncan Ph.D.: As students in Family & Consumer Sciences professional programs build their resumes, important skills to feature include:
-demonstration of expertise in Family & Consumer Sciences
-integrative thinking, interdisciplinary perspectives
-commitment to youth/human development
-a resolve to build inclusive classrooms and communities
-communication and leadership
-creativity and flexibility
Janine Duncan Ph.D.: As mentioned previously, there is currently a national shortage of Family & Consumer Sciences educators. Those entering the job market are encouraged to contact their state department of education's school personnel job bank, Family & Consumer Sciences state consultant, or university faculty in the field. Some states lack Family & Consumer Sciences personnel at the department of education and/or university programs. The National Partnership for recruiting, preparing, and supporting FCS educators is a great resource. To contact them: Fcsed
Kip Miller: On the short term, there was a reduction in what I call "back office" functions: finance/patient advocacy/billing/registration due to less people going to see their doctor and some reduction in elective procedures. Some of those functions resulted in either being furloughed or actually being laid-off. As the pandemic matures in time, some of those have recovered somewhat, though not all of them are back to pre-COVID levels. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that employment of healthcare occupations is projected to grow 18 percent from 2016 to 2026, adding about 2.4 million new jobs. This projected growth is mainly due to an aging population, leading to greater demand for healthcare services.
Kip Miller: There are a few skills that will be necessary in the future. One is the flexibility to adapt to an ever-changing work environment. If COVID has taught us anything, it is that regional preparation for unpredictable emergencies cannot withstand the something like a global health-crisis, such as we see today. No one was prepared for such an issue. However, even with media-hyped problems, the healthcare industry responded in not before-seen quickness to the pandemic that necessitated quick decision-making and cooperation between all the disciplines within healthcare. The second skill is the ability to think. There is a fine balance between data collection and decision-making in a timely manner. Issues that could affect one single patient or issues that affect an entire population will continue to face the healthcare industry. Those who are able to take the information at hand and make wise choices will do well in the industry.
Kip Miller: The one aspect that I always tell my students is to try and get some sort of healthcare experience before graduating. That could mean something as simple as volunteering at a local hospital. Most directors of volunteers in healthcare institutions are elated to have students volunteer. It provides real-world experience and an opportunity to see different aspects of the healthcare positions that most do not get an opportunity to see.
Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education
Policy Analysis and Research
Patrick Lane: I think everyone is a little uncertain about how best to evaluate and hire during the pandemic. Even in organizations that are doing some in-person work, that is usually happening in a very different environment, so my own opinion is that employers will really value "self-starters." Of course, they always put that kind of thing in job descriptions, but the ability to take on new tasks somewhat independently is getting more and more important in this distanced work environment.
Patrick Lane: Everyone says they're a good communicator and that they can analyze complex problems, but really being able to do this (and show evidence of it) sets applicants apart. This can be in the form of written reports, briefs, blogs, papers, etc., but being able to show that you can think about complex things and render them into easily communicable "bites" is a terrific skill.
Patrick Lane: Colorado is actually a pretty good place to look for work in the education policy space as there are multiple organizations with a national and regional reach located here. Additionally, every state has government agencies working on education, so state capitals are pretty good options. Obviously, the Washington, D.C., metro area is a hotspot for education policy work. But it will be interesting to see how much remote work grows as a result of improving technology/connectivity during the virus. It may be that in the not-too-distant future employees will have more options for remote work. Certainly, many organizations will still rely on in-person employees, but there may be more flexibility over time for staff who prove they can work well in a remote environment.
John Rivera Ph.D.: From a public administration perspective, the biggest trends that we will see in the job market will center around addressing the most significant issues that we have faced as a local and global community because of the pandemic.
Overall, the impact of the pandemic on government are those generally related to economic, health, and social issues. Similarly, gaps in pandemic related response and recovery are also part of this mix. There is high turnover and burnout in leadership and on the front lines. The exponential pressure of the job and the compounded compassion fatigue in the pandemic environment has enough stress for several lifetimes. From policy, to leadership and the support services in between - this is where the jobs will be. Keep in mind that this is not just government jobs. This is inclusive of all of those organizations/companies that will assist and help fill in the gaps.
One thing is certain, the world is going to need public servants and public services will be critical to our recovery. Consider that jobs in the new normal will require, even if they don't know it yet, a person with more cross-disciplinary approaches and skills. Think of security personnel that have the abilities to administer seroprevalence testing, HR personnel who are well versed in emergency response, or leadership that can double as therapists. Okay, well, the last one is probably already true.
John Rivera Ph.D.: Self-care is extremely important. We need to find ourselves now, more than ever, on the other side of this pandemic. What that means for each one of us and, where we end up, is all going to be the work of the journey ahead. This pandemic has impacted us all in many ways, some of which we may not fully understand till more time has passed. In the meantime, don't feel guilty for taking the time to get yourself grounded again and reacquainted with the new normal. However, just don't forget that while you are taking time away the world will still turn.
Remember, the real purpose in a gap year is to not just to lounge around and do nothing. It really is an opportunity, and that opportunity will be what you make it. Dare to take the risk to grow, mature, and engage the new world around you. Just do it at least six feet away (at least until social distancing guidelines subside - lol). Fun is not the enemy - complacency is. The longer you stay away the harder it is to get back on track. Live, experience, and then make it mean something by re-engaging your purpose. Gap years should be used to help find your way not lose your way.
It is also without a doubt that this pandemic has pushed the need, use, integration and adoption of technology. Job aspirants that have a more adept propensity for technology will be assets. This is obvious. However, on the other side of the spectrum there is going to be an increased need for people to grow their soft skills. People will need help with the people stuff.
John Rivera Ph.D.: It is okay to be unsure and struggle through your transition from school into a career. The path is not always smooth even in the best of times. In this environment though nothing is normal and, in reality, we are all trying to figure things out. We don't have all the answers.
If I had any advice it would be to remain dynamic, agile, and don't be picky. This is a time of transition for many people, not just those who are graduating. The struggle is real, but you are not alone. Regardless, don't sit idle and wait for things to magically fall out of the sky. I tell my students all the time that at the heart of public administration is service. Know that you can be of service in a myriad of ways. Big and small - the work you do matters because you matter. Volunteer, get involved, and let people know you are looking for opportunities. Keep in mind that not everyone starts out with their dream job or dream pay. In fact, some of us are still dreaming about that pay. In many instances, it is a process. Be patient with yourself and be resilient. Step by step you will get there. However, you won't get anywhere without that first step. Be courageous.
If you really can't think of anything look at the things you can do immediately around you. For example: Get a hold of your old faculty, the ones that really made a difference and impacted your life. Let them know that you would like to volunteer to help with research or work on projects. Give back to your college or university. You may have forgotten what it is like to travel on an airplane - but sometimes the nearest exit (the closest opportunity) is behind you. You just need to look.