January 11, 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.
Eastern Washington University
Middle Tennessee State University
Kent State University
University of Minnesota
Kent State University
California State University
Frostburg State University
Eastern Kentucky University
Florida State University
Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management
Marieke Van Puymbroeck Ph.D.: I think the biggest trends that we'll see is versatility in programming. The pandemic has really stretched the way we think about providing programming. We will likely have more options to do programming virtually, because one thing we've learned is that sometimes, it's just more desirable to do something virtually. For example, if there is a snowstorm, programming wouldn't be impacted if there were virtual options.
Marieke Van Puymbroeck Ph.D.: A variety of skills and certifications always set individuals apart from the crowd. In this day and age, being able to provide virtual programming, offer innovative ideas about programming, and engage people virtually are particularly important.
Marieke Van Puymbroeck Ph.D.: Some states have stronger recreation and parks programs than others; however, all states have them, so depending on the student's preference, there are jobs available across the country!
Eastern Washington University
Department of Wellness and Movement Sciences
Matt Chase Ph.D.: Well that depends on what sector one is looking at: private, public, non-profit, etc. RM graduates have access to a huge and complex industry when considering recreation, leisure, travel, tourism, sport, and entertainment. Currently, the outdoor recreation sector is blowing up. The public wants access to outdoor recreation experiences and equipment. Any sort of recreation that can be done outside during the pandemic is in high demand.
In fact, several states are opening up offices of outdoor recreation in order to capitalize on and manage the demand. Other sectors are not fairing as well. For example, travel and tourism are down right now for obvious reasons, however, once the pandemic is under control, this sector will become healthy again. We anticipate the motivation to travel and recreate will be as strong as ever. I suspect we will start to see opportunities for employment in this area again by Summer 2021, although it may take a year or two for the industry to fully recover.
The same holds true for public and non-profit entities - once people feel safe again, the demand for recreation experiences will be strong. With the trend toward working from home and moving to more desirable places to live, we anticipate a lot of people will be arranging their lives around recreation opportunities. There will always be work for recreation management graduates.
Matt Chase Ph.D.: The recreation industry values hands-on, applied experience. That and we are a certification driven industry. Students would be well served to pursue applicable certifications (and there are many) as well as applicable seasonal work. I anticipate opportunities for seasonal work will open up again in late spring and summer. All of the sectors - public, private, and non-profit - have opportunities for seasonal work - spring through fall. And of course, opportunities for winter seasonal work are available in the ski resort industry, as well as resorts and recreation operations that are located in the SE and SW.
Matt Chase Ph.D.: As I said above, the recreation industry values experience, along with formal education. I recommend that people acquire a variety of experiences in the industry. Be open minded too. We all start the higher education journey with an end goal in sight, however, since the recreation industry is so broad and diverse, people end up migrating to where the opportunities exist. That's what I mean about an open-minded approach. A new graduate may end up in an aspect of the industry she never anticipated at the start of her career. Once graduates have accumulated some on-the-job experience, they will have access to other opportunities and mobility. The degree in RM sets graduates up for entry-level professional positions in the industry. As such, I highly recommend that soon to be graduates take full advantage of their professional internship experience. By this I mean, soon to be graduates should have a good idea of what aspects of the industry are appealing and which aspects of the industry are not appealing. They should choose an internship that sets them up for a positive career trajectory. My experience has been that students who choose their internships wisely, more often than not, walk into professional-level positions once they are done with school.
Last, soon to be graduates should try to find a mentor while in school and once they are on the job. An effective mentor can make a huge difference for the new professional. And remember, this industry is about people and passion. The industry is looking for employees who have a great attitude, who enjoy creating meaningful recreation experiences, and who fully understand the importance of customer service as it relates to an effective and sustainable business model.
Dr. Rudy Dunlap Ph.D.: This is an intriguing question and one that we'll only be able to answer with the benefit of hindsight. Some graduates may be anticipating that their inability to find a position immediately and the corresponding time gap on their resume might inhibit their ability to get interviews or job offers once the pandemic abates. My intuition is that this fear is unfounded. Unlike when an individual runs into career obstacles, we're experiencing this pandemic as a society, and employers have struggled as much as graduates. When it comes to employment in parks and recreation, I suspect that we're headed for a collective "reset" in which employers try to revive their dormant workforces, and any blank spots on the resumes of new graduates will be forgiven.
Relative to its enduring impact, my greater concern is the psychological toll that the pandemic has taken on some new university graduates. Many students who completed their degrees in May or August have had to move home with parents and spend the ensuing months either unemployed or working outside of parks and recreation. In some cases, this profound upheaval in young graduates' lives has resulted in depression and other mental health challenges that, if not properly treated, could function as obstacles that outlast the economic effects of the pandemic.
Dr. Rudy Dunlap Ph.D.: There is no university class that prepares graduates for life during a pandemic. In addition to the usual repertoire of skills (e.g., program planning, budgeting, risk management), employers in parks and recreation need young employees who are resilient, adaptable, and committed to an agency's mission. Many new graduates emerge from the university environment with an ambitious plan for the first three to five years of their career, and having such goals is crucial for future success.
Even so, career goals need to be tempered by a working environment in which businesses and agencies are fighting for survival. Should they have been lucky enough to find a position in the midst of the pandemic, graduates need to quickly establish a disposition towards their work that puts the agency and its clients above their individual ambitions. Once the dust settles, supervisors will recognize those employees who were "team players" during these difficult times, and those folks will likely be rewarded with greater responsibilities.
Dr. Rudy Dunlap Ph.D.: Parks and recreation is not a nine-to-five field, and we work when others are playing, as the saying goes. How does a potential employer identify those graduates who will be willing to go the extra mile when it comes to executing the agency's mission? For the newly minted graduate, volunteer experiences are a great indicator of someone's dedication to the field. Most students will have internships and seasonal work experiences of one sort or another, but not all students will show their enthusiasm by serving as a volunteer little league coach or by cleaning up the local stream on the weekends. The post-pandemic job market in parks and recreation, especially for entry-level positions, will be competitive, so new grads need to do whatever they can to set themselves apart.
Dr. Mary Ann Devine Ph.D.: I believe there is one enduring impact on graduates of recreation, park, and tourism programs. It will realize how important public recreation and park outlets are to our health. Kent State University graduates are positioned to be leaders to continue the efforts to promote public recreation, park, and tourism initiatives for the betterment and quality of life for their communities. Throughout this pandemic, people have turned to their local, state, and national parks to improve their health by enjoying nature, taking hikes, or socially connecting (appropriately distanced, of course) with friends. Public recreation services have become environments for promoting healthy involvement and social connections by creating community gardens, pop-up drive-in movie theaters, virtual community concert venues, virtual workshops, and outdoor exercise opportunities.
Dr. Mary Ann Devine Ph.D.: Graduates in recreation, park, and tourism services will need to have creative, strategic, think critically skills when it comes to meeting the public needs related to quality of life and. They will need to know how to collaborate with a variety of businesses, organizations, and agencies in their communities to address public needs on extremely limited budgets due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe that collaborative sharing of resources among public, private, and non-profit agencies is going to be critical to boosting the economy of a community, creating opportunities for supporting mental, physical, and emotional health, and meeting the needs of a diverse community.
Dr. Mary Ann Devine Ph.D.: Experiences that provide opportunities to work with diverse groups within a community, particularly marginalized groups, are unique skill sets that aids in students' stand out from peers who do not have these experiences. Also, experiences that give students opportunities to develop and improve leadership, interpersonal, and writing skills, specific to the field of recreation, park, and tourism.
Dr. Clinton J. Warren: It is clear that the initial trend during the pandemic has been a furloughing or elimination of positions as a result of the sporadic ability to offer recreational and fitness programming. However, that is a generalization of the industry. While some areas of the industry have been hit particularly hard (fitness centers and group training examples), public outdoor recreation has maintained a high level of popularity. As we begin to move out of the pandemic and public health returns to a more stable state, the job market is likely to rebound slowly. It is unlikely a mass hiring will occur in the time immediately following the widespread availability of a vaccine. The industry has had to operate with less for months now, and it is quite likely to top level management will be initially hesitant to return to higher operating costs until the market proves itself once again.
Dr. Clinton J. Warren: Wearable technology has been gaining prominence in the general health and fitness industry for years now. As professional and collegiate sports have found more sophisticated ways to measure athlete performance, through adopting wearable technology, the cost, and thus accessibility, for the general population has grown. I would expect this trend to continue. It has been suggested that the pandemic may be a catalyst for growth in virtual or augmented reality in the health, fitness, and recreation industry, but a real move toward this is likely further than five years down the line.
Dr. Clinton J. Warren: While it is certainly difficult to project the next five years, it is likely the field will begin to re-emerge in that timeframe. As a result, the demand for graduates working in the field will, at the minimum, stabilize. It is likely that five years from now will see a highly skilled and educated group of graduates who have pursued master's level degrees or advanced certification during the economic downturn. This will allow the industry to innovate at a much more rapid pace if C level executives and club owners anticipate this with a willingness to grow, following the widespread availability of a vaccine.
Ariel Rodríguez Ph.D., CPRP: Be open, flexible, and willing to learn. I realize that after graduating from college, many individuals may feel as if they are mentally and emotionally done with learning, but the truth is that graduation is really just the beginning of lifelong learning as a recreation professional. If graduates are looking to work in parks and recreation, I would recommend applying for the Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) certification when they are eligible and feel ready to take on the CPRP exam.
If a recent graduate is unable to immediately crack into the field, I would recommend either volunteering in a recreation specialization they are interested in or perhaps looking at job descriptions for recreation positions they are interested in and find jobs that help to give them experience in the requested knowledge, skills, and abilities so that they can better position themselves as a future candidate.
Ariel Rodríguez Ph.D., CPRP: The recreation management profession prides itself in providing quality recreation services, safe spaces, and creating opportunities for memorable human interactions. It is likely that technologies that help to mitigate challenges to this will be more important and prevalent. For instance, we have seen an increase in disease and illness over the past few years, not just related to Covid-19 but also connected with service men and women returning from combat with seen and unseen disabilities. Technologies that will help individuals get back to the recreational activities they loved or try new recreational activities will continue to be prevalent in the future.
It is likely that we will also continue to see efforts to connect online technologies with recreation programming and special events. For instance, we have seen demand for export programming increase over the years. Covid-19 seems to have perpetuated this need as there is an increased need for individuals to stay in confined spaces, and gaming stigmas have dramatically decreased in recent years. With new gaming technologies, such as the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S consoles, being currently launched, it is likely they will play a role in the provision of recreation services by professionals for years to come.
Ariel Rodríguez Ph.D., CPRP: It depends on the recreation specialization and where they intend to live, but in general, salaries are competitive once a graduate gets into the recreation coordinator/programmer/specialist and higher positions. Research by the National Recreation and Park Association (2019) on annual professional salaries showed that median salaries for a recreation program coordinator in the United States in 2019 were $48,141, and for recreation program coordinator positions and above, most saw an increase of approximately 3% between 2018-2019; this suggests salaries are keeping up with inflation.
Kent State University
Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management
Dr. Andrew Lepp Ph.D.: Our students have had tremendous success in finding work in the public and nonprofit sectors. Our recent graduates find employment for local park districts like Cleveland Metro Parks, various state park agencies, and the National Park Service. Additionally, we have students employed as park rangers with the Army Corps of Engineers. Nonprofits like the YMCA are hiring right now, and our students are finding jobs there. Also, nonprofits providing recreation services or recreation-based therapies to populations with special needs are always in need of help. Campus Recreation is another good source of employment.
Dr. Andrew Lepp Ph.D.: There will be an increase. The global pandemic has demonstrated that people need outdoor recreation for healthy, active living. Parks and protected areas are now more popular than ever, particularly parks close to population centers. Additionally, many long time professionals are now in retirement, and many entry-level positions are opening. Finally, I think a Democrat in the White House is a good thing for funding public recreation.
Dr. Andrew Lepp Ph.D.: I think I answered this question above. A range of public and nonprofit providers are hiring at the local, state, and federal levels. We have students finding jobs in the general industry close to home here in Ohio and also nationwide. Two weeks ago, one of our students was hired by Zion National Park in Utah. Opportunities are everywhere.
Dr. Samuel Lankford Ph.D.: Creative ways to stage events and offer to program. Might include a mix of virtual and small groups. Might consist of experiences that people do within their family or circle of friends.
Dr. Samuel Lankford Ph.D.: Social media skills, meeting coordination using Aoom, and other similar software applications. I expect these technologies will become more powerful and sophisticated.
Dr. Samuel Lankford Ph.D.: Increased demand, once people figure out that the world has changed and that recreation programmers and event coordinators can enhance their quality of life through exploration and personal growth.
Frostburg State University
Departmnet of Kinesiology and Recreation
Diane Blankenship Ed.D.: The professional expectations are changing and growing for graduates to enter the workforce in the recreation and parks industry. The graduate should have a solid resume with professional experiences, provided by their university program, to plan and conduct programs and events. Within these experiences, they should touch on human resource skills, operation skills, communication, and marketing. Additionally, the graduate should have the expected entry-level knowledge related to the major job duty areas. Finally, employment history in the industry is very helpful, such as working at day and residential camps, aquatic centers, outdoor outfitters, parks, and other recreation-oriented settings during the school year and/or summer.
Diane Blankenship Ed.D.: There are opportunities all over the US and abroad with the Department of Defense recreation programs for employment. The critical element in completing the internship with an agency where the graduate hopes to begin their career as either a full-time or part-time employee. The internship experience provides the student with an opportunity to position themselves within the agency. The second element people must consider going to the jobs, rather than expecting that a job will be available in their hometown. Just like any profession, the person goes to where there is an opportunity. Finally, if the graduate has worked summers for an agency and did their internship with the same agency, they are perfectly positioned to fill a vacancy that occurs.
Diane Blankenship Ed.D.: Graduates in 5 years will be expected to have a diversified skill set with various forms of technology for communication, marketing, and public relations, as well as various emerging technologies for video conferencing, creation of marketing and promotion material, and determining where to have technology-free zones. New apps emerge every year that the recreation and park industry embrace to communicate with people and encourage people to explore and interact with the natural environment, historic sites, and monuments.
Department of Recreation and Sport Pedagogy
Katherine Jordan Ph.D.: It would be misleading if I said no, but I don't believe all of the impacts will be negative. Of course, currently, our students and recent graduates face issues with regard to finding internships, simply due to the unknowns with in-person and virtual work opportunities. However, many recreation organizations have been able to create virtual work opportunities in addition to changing in-person work opportunities to follow all COVID-19 protocols and best practices. Now that organizations have had time to determine the best paths forward, we are seeing exciting and creative ways that organizations are adapting. This, in a way, can really open up more opportunities for graduates in this field because of the unique skills and creativity that we are seeing come out of current students and recent graduates. Now is a time for embracing change, seeking out creative thinking, and using the skills that recent graduates have.
Katherine Jordan Ph.D.: The recreation management field truly covers such an array of work opportunities, the location really depends on what kind of work graduates are interested in. A graduate who would like to work more in camp settings, for instance, could quite literally pick and choose where they would like to be, simply because there are so many camps in existence. Within the camp world, there are also so many types of camps with different purposes and locations. A graduate who is interested in more municipal recreation will also have options because municipal recreation opportunities are all over the country as well. A graduate who is interested in working for or even owning a private business that caters to tourists can explore opportunities in areas where they are interested in living as well. We try to emphasize to our students and recent graduates that when searching for jobs, they should think about where they will be fulfilled in their job, as well as their life outside of their job. Fortunately, work in the recreation field can be rewarding, fulfilling, and you can live just about anywhere you would like and have a job in the recreation management field.
Katherine Jordan Ph.D.: Over the past few years, we've already seen incredibly creative and exciting ways that technology has been used in our field. Researchers and practitioners alike use virtual and augmented reality to create recreational experiences for users. Drones have been used to help survey lands, create maps, enhance marketing materials, and have even become sources of recreation as well. These are two kinds of technologies that will continue to advance and, undoubtedly, have an impact on this field.
Another form of technology that we don't always think of related to recreational equipment, gear, and clothing. Take adaptive recreation, for instance. We currently live in a time during which individuals with various disabilities are participating in organized sports and adventure recreation, as well as various recreational habits that are done more so as individuals or small groups of friends, like cycling on a bike path. Technological advances have helped the recreation field grow more inclusive to people of all abilities. This will only continue to advance in the coming years and, I believe, this is an area where we will see rapid growth in the future.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we've also seen an increase in virtual programming. Of course, there are people who are unable to participate in virtual programming, due to a variety of reasons, but this is something that will continue in the coming years. Virtual programming can increase participation in recreational and leisure pursuits, as well as enhance community engagement. In the years to come, I imagine this kind of programming will continue and with time, I believe, we will be able to reach a more broad and diverse population.
Dr. Jon McChesney: Recreation is at the core of a social profession, thus demanding the need for social intelligence and a relationship orientation for graduates. The need for connection is perhaps greater than at any time in our history, given the loneliness epidemic, the increase in depression, and suicide. Professionals need to be mindful of the issues facing our country and demonstrate sensitivity and appreciation for diversity and cultural agility. Creativity, innovation, and adaptability to change will continue to be important as recreation is forced to evolve in a Covid-19 world and beyond.
Dr. Jon McChesney: Typically, graduates have good job opportunities throughout the United States, given the magnitude of the industry. For example, event planning was a 33% growth industry, and in 2019 tourism employed one in every ten people on Earth! Covid-19 has had a profound impact on recreation, parks, and tourism, but there will be a recovery. We are currently seeing a resurgence in outdoor recreation and people experiencing parks throughout the country. Graduates will need to continue to nurture their professional network and be patient with the current job's climate.
Dr. Jon McChesney: The recreation field has not always embraced technology, given our roots in play, community building, and the outdoors. Technology has been used extensively in marketing processes, but the integration into programming efforts has not been as robust. Covid-19 has forced agencies to embrace technology in recreation program delivery, which has the potential to be empowering. Our profession needs to consider a paradigm shift to more of a facilitator role, with municipal recreation agencies operating as a clearinghouse of programs and services, rather than a focus on direct service. Such a dramatic shift would require significant use of technology.
Florida State University
Department of Recreation, Tourism & Events
John Crossley: It's clear that 2020 has been a year of challenges and changes. The COVID-19 crisis has changed, at least temporarily, the leisure patterns of most Americans. The health precautions, combined with shutdowns and/or restrictions on operating recreation programs and facilities, are obvious issues. Throw in the economic climate problems, civil unrest, hurricanes, and forest fires, and we have a year that has been like no other-and we have three more months to go!
Where do we go from here?
On the one hand, I believe that we will have a rebound in our industry based on "pent-up demand." Once clear of the majority of these crisis effects, I think many Americans will want to catch up on much of the recreation they have missed. This includes a rebound in tourism. On the other hand, I also believe that there could be a lingering element of caution that carries over. Some of us will probably continue to be cautious about crowed venues and instead continue with on-line shopping and virtual experiences.
John Crossley: I believe that success will come to those who exhibit several behaviors that have always been important but are more important now than ever.
Flexibility and Adaptability
We can't be captured by practices that always worked in the past. We have to be willing to adapt to new situations and do so quickly and efficiently.
Be willing to listen to the ideas of co-workers and especially to customers as they suggest changes in operating practices, new program ideas, and new events. Think broadly about changes that are happening around you and how you might even apply something creative from another industry. Not every new idea will work perfectly, so adapt it and try again.
Experience and Patience
Recent graduates need to build on their past practical experience. However, you should also embrace every opportunity to broaden your experience by accepting opportunities to learn something new.
Take on a new assignment, cross-train in another department, or take a college course to learn something you didn't "have to take," such as accounting, financial management, or facility maintenance.
This depth of skills will make you more valuable in your organization and less likely to be laid off when a future crisis occurs. Meanwhile, have patience and ride-out the troubled seas for a calmer future.