October 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.
Grand Valley State University
Stony Brook University
North Carolina State University
Pennsylvania College of Technology
University of North Florida
Montana State University
University of Akron
James Madison University
Cedar Crest College
Grand Valley State University
School of Interdisciplinary Health
Libby MacQuillan Ph.D.: Having the RDN credential for registered dietitian nutritionists is the most important thing that helps a candidate stand out from those with other types of training, "nutritionist" certificate programs, etc. The credential RDN means a person completed an accredited dietetics program and has passed the credentialing exam to be an RDN, a qualified nutrition expert.
Libby MacQuillan Ph.D.: In nutrition and dietetics, we communicate closely with our patients and clients about topics that are often sensitive or difficult, such as behavioral change. So, teaching, counseling, and general communication skills are key.
Libby MacQuillan Ph.D.: Knowledge and the application of Medical Nutrition Therapy, or the treatment and prevention of disease using nutrition, are the most important hard skills. Candidates need a strong knowledge of biochemistry, metabolic processes, and anatomy and physiology, and pharmacology.
Libby MacQuillan Ph.D.: Once you have the RDN credential, there are many options for specialization within the field, which can help dietitians earn the most money. Specializations and board certification areas include oncology, pediatrics, renal, nutrition support, and obesity.
Stony Brook University
Department of Family, Population & Preventive Medicine
Lorraine Danowski Ph.D.: Flexibility, team player, previous experience, and familiarity with programs used by clinical dietetics or food service, CBORD, etc.
Lorraine Danowski Ph.D.: Empathetic individuals who can troubleshoot a difficult patient without a lot of assistance. If they supervise any other employees, they would need to resolve conflicts.
Lorraine Danowski Ph.D.: Excellent phone skills, computer skills with the EMR and programs used by the food service industry, and some excel would be beneficial.
Lorraine Danowski Ph.D.: The ones I have listed. All Healthcare needs to operate at the top of their abilities as we are fast-paced and show no signs of slowing down.
North Carolina State University
Natalie Cooke PhD, RDN: Students need to seek out opportunities to gain both technical, discipline-specific, and more general, "soft" skills. A strong resume for a student graduating with a degree in nutrition science will include relevant hands-on experience in addition to strong academic credentials. These experiences include paid and unpaid internships and jobs in nutrition and health-related settings, including community-based and clinical settings; undergraduate research experience in nutrition, food science, or other life science disciplines; undergraduate teaching experience where students serve as teaching assistants for life science courses; volunteer experience with nonprofit organizations; and leadership experience through involvement with clubs and other on- and off-campus organizations.
Skills gained through these various experiences might include being able to (1) design and conduct a research study under the direction of a faculty member, (2) read and interpret scientific literature to make a judgment about the evidence for a nutrition-related topic, (3) effectively communicate scientific information in an accessible way through community-based nutrition education, (4) create an eye-catching and informative handout, social media post, or article for a blog, or (5) demonstrate critical thinking standards while providing feedback to others.
Natalie Cooke PhD, RDN: In June 2020, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities released two reports, one quantitative and one qualitative, on gaps in employability skills (https://www.aplu.org/news-and-media/News/aplu-releases-two-reports-on-gaps-in-employability-skills-and-workforce-preparedness-among-college-graduates). As the Executive Summary (https://www.aplu.org/library/from-academia-to-the-workforce-executive-summary/file) reports, the 11 skills that were identified as "critical growth areas" include: (1) understanding role in the workplace and having realistic career expectations, (2) recognizing and dealing constructively with conflict, (3) accepting and applying critique and direction in the workplace, (4) listening effectively, (5) communicating accurately and concisely, (6) realizing the effect of decisions, (7) building professional relationships, (8) navigating change and ambiguity, (9) identifying and analyzing problems, (10) transferring knowledge from one situation to another, and (11) asking good questions.
Additionally, critical thinking is an essential skill for nutrition science professionals, including being able to critically evaluate scientific literature about a topic to inform decision-making and information shared with the public. Nutrition scientists want to make sure that they are sharing information with the public that is based on research. Teamwork is also an essential skill needed in any setting, but especially in healthcare settings, where work is often collaborative with many members of the healthcare team. Similarly, in a research setting, interdisciplinary work is highly valued. Empathy is also essential for healthcare providers.
Natalie Cooke PhD, RDN: Different fields in healthcare will have competencies that they expect their professionals to have mastered. For example, a working group from the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior created a list of Nutrition Educator Competencies for Promoting Healthy Individuals, Communities, and Food Systems (https://www.sneb.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Competencies_Page_21.pdf). These competencies are organized into ten categories: (1) Basic Food and Nutrition Knowledge; (2) Nutrition Across the Lifecycle; (3) Food Science; (4) Physical Activity; (5) Food and Nutrition Policy; (6) Agricultural Production and Food Systems; (7) Behavior and Education Theory; (8) Nutrition Education Program Design, Implementation, and Evaluation; (9) Written, Oral, and Social Media Communication; and (10) Nutrition Education Research Methods. A technical skill for a nutrition educator in the area of "Written, Oral, and Social Media Communication" is: "Engage and educate through simple, clear, and motivational language appropriate for diverse audiences." These technical or discipline-focused skills can be gained through engaging in internships and gaining work experience under the direction of nutrition educators and/or registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs).
One way to learn what hard/technical skills are required of jobs is to start looking at job descriptions years before planning to apply for a job. That way, a student can carefully select experiences to help develop those skills over time, making them a stronger applicant for the job they wish to apply for in the future.
Natalie Cooke PhD, RDN: Similarly, to know what skills will help an individual earn the most within a profession, it can be helpful to look at the job descriptions for the highest paying jobs in a profession. Seeing what is required of these jobs can help an applicant target professional development to advance to these higher-paying jobs over time. Often, these higher-paying jobs come with demonstrated success in the technical aspects of the job and in leadership within an organization. Then, after being hired into a company or organization, to advance within that organization, it can be helpful to look at the credentials and experience of those in leadership within the organization to create a professional development plan. Then, to continue acquiring new skills, volunteer for projects that allow for gaining new technical skills and developing leadership abilities.
Pennsylvania College of Technology
Rebecca Pawlik: In the dietetics field as well as other healthcare there has been a tremendous growth in telemedicine due to the pandemic.
Rebecca Pawlik: Registered dietitians need to be licensed in the state they provide the nutrition education. Any additional specialized certifications are a real advantage such as Certified Diabetes Instructors, Obesity and Weight Management, Sports Dietetics, or Oncology Nutrition.
Rebecca Pawlik: There will always be a need in the healthcare industry, as well as careers in skilled trades and technology fields.
Lauri Wright: The biggest trend we are seeing in the job market for dietetic graduates is the opportunities for telemedicine positions. Due to COVID, nutrition counseling is being provided over a secured network to allow for nutrition management in a safe manner. The second trend we are seeing in the job market for dietetic graduates is an increased need for dietitians in intensive care units. Patients admitted to the hospital are often critically ill and require complex nutrition support provided by a registered dietitian.
Lauri Wright: For a dietitian, experience demonstrating critical thinking skills, interprofessional and practice competency.
Lauri Wright: There is a high demand for registered dietitians in the Florida and Arizona due to retirees relocating to these areas and also fewer training programs.
Dr. Carmen Shanks Ph.D.: The job market in the fields of food and nutrition will shift towards meeting the new ways of life that arose out of COVID-19. Positions in health care, retail, and nutrition counseling will certainly have a focus on digital technologies, such as telehealth and online ordering. To address the problem of rising food insecurity in the United States due to COVID-19, positions in the policy and non-profit sectors will become available. The way people eat has changed dramatically, with more foods cooked at home, and opportunities may arise for nutrition education or meal services. The problem of nutrition-related chronic disease has persisted since before the pandemic, and positions designed to help individuals care for health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease will remain. Many positions across the field will have the opportunity to work remote.
Dr. Carmen Shanks Ph.D.: The field of food and nutrition is very broad. Gain as many new experiences in the field of food and nutrition as possible to understand how the graduate's skills and career goals fits within different sectors. In addition, there are many cultures in the United States that have specific dietary preferences or food needs. Working with new cultures will help to increase cultural competency and relevance in the field.
Dr. Carmen Shanks Ph.D.: Entering the food and nutrition workforce during 2021 will be different than any other time in history given. Remain committed to your career path and clear about the types of positions that you apply and interview for. The real key is to remain open and flexible to how employers are addressing issues related to COVID-19, such as being willing to work from home, follow COVID-19 safety protocols, or work different hours than typical.
University of Akron
School of Nutrition and Dietetics
Leann Schaeffer: I do not believe there will be any negative impacts from COVID on the dietetics profession because of its importance in healthcare. An advantage of being a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) is there are many career opportunities; these include: nutrition counseling, working with athletes, positions in dialysis units, K-12 school districts, hospitals, eating disorders, teaching in higher education, the prison system, and long-term care, to name a few. Adding to the variety of career choices, RDNs also have the advantage of focusing their career in a clinical setting, foodservice setting, or both. Entrepreneurship is another area of consideration. Many RDNs start their own nutrition counseling business or consulting company to serve the above populations.
Leann Schaeffer: If a gap year is necessary for a student that is interested in becoming a dietitian, they should do the following:
-Ask RDNs if they can shadow them for a day. This availability has been hampered by the pandemic, however, when we return to normal business operation, this should be an area of focus. The reason we suggest shadowing dietitians is to increase familiarity with the field, which is beneficial when considering career options and is a an opportunity for networking. It is important to record the facility, date, and the RDN's contact information for future reference.
-Volunteering in the community is essential. The philosophy of most RDNs is we should give back to our community and help individuals in need. This can be as easy as helping at a soup kitchen, assisting in the distribution of food at food banks and food pantries, or spending time serving in churches and organizations.
-If leadership opportunities are available, go after them. The ability to work as a team and the experiences learned from being an officer or a leader in an organization are invaluable. RDNs are often managers in the work force and leadership is an important component.
-If a person interested in dietetics needs to work, they should consider working in foodservice. This opportunity gives students the experience of working with the public, learning teamwork, and the strategies for good customer service. Working in hospital or long term care foodservice departments, or waitressing are ideal for individuals interested in dietetics. These opportunities also teach the worker about building a rapport with patients or customers and how to solve problems or challenges. In addition to those benefits, the exposure to foodservice teaches a person about cooking and using foodservice equipment. Often times there are opportunities for advancement such as being a team or shift leader or orienting new employees, which illustrates they are a competent employee and have leadership qualities.
-Learn how to cook. Dietetics has a clinical component, but there is also a strong food component. Familiarity with foods and their preparation are invaluable when working in foodservice. How would an RDN know how to assist a cook in a foodservice operation if a problem arises? Or how would an RDN be able to counsel a patient about healthier cooking techniques if they are unfamiliar with food selection and preparation?
Leann Schaeffer: Many graduates have the impression they will begin their career at the highest echelon, but this is not the case. Accepting a position they would not previously have considered may result in a new RDN learning which area of dietetics they are most interested in or prefer not to stay in. Give each new job a chance before deciding to move to another job. Employers want to see stability and commitment. Enjoy every day of your new career knowing you are serving the public and improving the health of everyone you encounter on a daily basis. Also, no two days are alike, which prevents boredom and offers challenges that will make you a stronger RDN.
Dr. Jeremy Akers Ph.D.: Telehealth and telemedicine opportunities
Dr. Jeremy Akers Ph.D.: Since you will be required to have a master's degree to sit for the RD exam in 2024, I would suggest thinking about pursuing a graduate degree.
Dr. Jeremy Akers Ph.D.: There are two: respect the healthcare team that you work with and be confident in your knowledge and skills; you are the nutrition expert. Find your niche and develop that to the fullest. You will have more job satisfaction and advancement opportunities being a specialist.
Cedar Crest College
Department of Nutrition
Tara Miltenberger: I believe that the dynamic profession of dietetics always has embraced innovative opportunities to share expert nutrition recommendations. With the pandemic, exploring technology to communicate evidence-based best practices for nutrition is critical to remain at the forefront of the field. Utilizing social media to amplify visibility and influence the public with sound nutrition advice was trending before the pandemic.
Additionally, the pandemic forced healthcare systems to embrace technology with telemedicine's emergence as an essential means of providing medical care.
While this switch started as a necessity, telemedicine proved to be efficient, effective, and, in many cases, more comfortable for patients to receive the care they needed. I believe that both patients and providers mutually benefit from telemedicine. It gives dietitians the ability to extend their reach to individuals who might not travel to a physical appointment. We will continue to see a demand for dietitians competent in telemedicine even after the pandemic.
At this point, social media and other virtual work are considered essential for most practitioners in nutrition, and I do not think that will change post-pandemic.
Tara Miltenberger: A career in dietetics demands competence in critical thinking, exceptional communication skills, ethical integrity, and adaptability. I believe that employers are going to look for more technical skills moving forward. Dietitians must highlight proficiency in basic computer software systems (e.g., MS Office, file sharing, mainstream electronic medical record systems). Demonstrating technical skills tied to telemedicine systems, professional social media platforms, and creative software systems will stand out to hiring managers who seek innovative dietitians who are not just experts in nutrition but also want to propel our message to the public.
Tara Miltenberger: As research continues to support nutrition's role in preventing and treating chronic disease and illness, dietitians will remain in high demand as nutrition experts across multiple job sites, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, public health centers, and more. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that dietitians' employment would grow by eight percent in the next ten years, faster than average (1). I would anticipate national trends with the hiring of dietitians to remain the same and increase numbers exponentially. If telemedicine continues to grow to connect patients with dietitians, physical location may not be a factor. As states evaluate policy and insurance plans review coverage, employers and dietitians must consider the legal implication for practicing medical nutrition therapy across state lines (2).
(1) Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dietitians and Nutritionists, at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm (visited December 06, 2020).
(2) Commission on Dietetic Registration. Telehealth Overview: Can I Practice in this State? https://www.cdrnet.org/telehealth (visited December 13, 2020).