December 2, 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.
Nazarene Theological Seminary
The University of Findlay
SUNY College at Old Westbury
University of Oregon
Winebrenner Theological Seminary
Academy for Jewish Religion California
Nazarene Theological Seminary
Doctor of MinistryWebsite
Rev. Levi Jones: It isn't easy to imagine that there wouldn't be an enduring impact. Cataclysmic events leave wounds that take time to heal and leave a scar in its wake. The pandemic has disrupted life and demonstrated how fragile our communities could be. It has also revealed our connection with each other in ways that were not always readily noticed.
Graduates have had to adapt to a rapidly changing environment, navigating additional stressors, such as the widening political divide. The downturn of the economy has made education increasingly challenging to afford. Students have had to weather increased isolation while finding new means of being in the community. Despite the difficulties, graduates, and many others, have found creative ways of making the best out of hardship. I think there is a resilience that will be carried over into the vocational lives of graduating students.
Rev. Levi Jones: You might expect someone to say that technological proficiency or some other marketable skill is most important. Indeed, those can help attain a job. But I think that the most critical skill is the ability to empathize. Knowledge is useful but incomplete. Empathy understands that learning is best used in service to others. The experience moves toward wisdom when compassion, or love of neighbor, is the primary motivation in our use of knowledge. Given the realities that we face as a society, I can think of nothing that would be more important for graduates' flourishing and the communities in which they serve.
Rev. Levi Jones: When I review a resume, I am looking for the breadth of experience that may demonstrate transferrable skills. I am also looking for longevity. Is this a person who jumps from job to job, or can they provide stability? It's also important to see how they serve their community. Those become indicators that a candidate would develop in the position, rather than merely seeing it as a steppingstone to something "better." Those candidates also tend to grow and develop in their skills and character so that increased responsibility and opportunity becomes available to them.
Department of TheologyWebsite
Dr. Marcus Mescher: Revenue losses may mean less available jobs in some areas. But we can see that Catholic school enrollment is up because parents trust high-quality education, and smaller class sizes will translate to more attention and support to students, even in remote learning settings. Graduates interested in teaching should find more opportunities to engage in intellectual growth as well as spiritual and moral development. We're also seeing rising rates of mental illness in young people, so we can anticipate that there will be a need for more experts in how to accompany people in crisis.
Theology that helps people understand beliefs and values helps us make sense of behavior and can equip graduates for a variety of ministry settings. When paired with a study of psychology, theology can be especially effective in helping people discern and articulate their meaning and purpose, especially as we try to make sense of who we are and what we value -- and what changes we hope to make on the other side of the pandemic. The pandemic also interrupted a lot of usual routines and rituals; graduates who can translate what they learned in theology, so it is accessible, relevant, and engaging for people in the digital realm will be crucial for meeting people where they are (increasingly online) in looking to the future. The healthcare field continues to grow, and graduates with degrees in theology can play an important role as hospital chaplains and spiritual companions, or even consultants in healthcare ethics.
Dr. Marcus Mescher: Students will need to be interdisciplinary thinkers to keep pace in a dynamic and interdependent social context. They will need to know how to read texts critically in order to assess its credibility (especially in an era of 'fake news') and explain its meaning. They also need to be strong communicators, able to write and speak clearly and effectively. Theology is an important discipline for linking personal beliefs and values to social and ecological duties.
It will be important for graduates to be able to make compelling connections between those values and how to address pressing social and environmental concerns, especially given so many examples of crisis in our communities and in our climate. In a time of rising rates of social distrust and division, we need people who have expertise in empathy and understanding, especially across differences, in order to build bridges, find common ground, and collaborate for the common good.
Dr. Marcus Mescher: Experience in accompanying other people (e.g., teaching, tutoring, or service), and especially work, that empowers other people stands out. The goal is to have students find their voice and use it, and to help others do the same. We still have a lot to learn from sharing life with others--especially across differences. And when graduates can speak to their experience with diversity and inclusion, studying abroad, mentoring young people, or serving communities in need, it shows they are developing their 'soft skills' at the same time as they are developing their intellectual abilities and pursuing academic excellence. It's not enough to have an experience; it's about the meaning made from the experience and how it can be put in service to meet a need in our world.
Department of ReligionWebsite
Kecia Ali: The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities, widening the gap between those who can work from home and those who must risk exposure to perform "essential" work. It has also affected many sectors, with arts and culture organizations very profoundly affected, and others, including digital content providers, holding on or even expanding. Because religious studies graduates pursue an array of careers, including journalism, non-profit work, and a variety of helping professions, including in health fields, the impact of the pandemic on their prospects will depend on the path they pursue.
Kecia Ali: Religious studies, like other humanities fields, trains students to think critically and communicate clearly. Additionally, religion is central to understanding the world today, from regional conflicts across the globe to the recent U.S. election.
Kecia Ali: Graduates with religious studies training pursue lots of different kinds of work, so it's impossible to generalize; much also depends on the course of the pandemic and, obviously, government responses to its impacts.
Department of Theology and Religious StudiesWebsite
Frederick Ruf: What I've observed is that we've had some of our basic meanings and values "shoved" over the past nine months, and it's caused a reassessment about what we really need. Jobs need to mean more than jobs now, don't they? That was already a trend with so many younger people deeply concerned about Climate Change and with self-care, and seeking employment that made them and their surroundings, in a strong sense, better. But the pandemic has enlarged the areas of concern for health and how politics and public policy can be tragically inadequate has become so vivid, and the need for respect for science and evidence, for facts and life-enhancement (not just grudges and power-enhancement) has seized our attention. I had a Georgetown student write to me this morning, saying that he had been on track to major in Chinese and economics because he was told it was a "smart move," but over the past nine months, he's changed his mind and needs to study something that matters. I think the job market will fill with people who want their lives doing something that matters.
Frederick Ruf: I'm afraid I'm not much use on this topic, but if I might note, the experience of many professors at Georgetown, during the months we've taught remotely, is that students crave and benefit from physical books. I'm not one of those professors who's anti-technology. I'm a fairly-early adoptor. But when they're on Zoom all day, students want a physical book; they want objects that are physical. I start my classes with music (student-selected music), and we all love it because it's not just eyes on screens. Technology that involves more than the visual. That's what I hope for.
Frederick Ruf: For all of the reasons that I give above, the answer is yes, there will be a demand for students who study the Humanities, generally, and religion, specifically. The Career Center at Georgetown held some workshops, a few years ago, bringing information from employers to our majors, and their message was that there were three desires: 1. skill in critical thinking, 2. skill in writing, and 3. interpersonal skills. All of the Humanities develop those, and, for that reason, our graduates have done quite well in finding employment. What will be different now is that human meanings and human values have risen to the surface not just among students, as I've said, but publically. The damage that can be done politically and environmentally (that is, in climate and in health) is now known by employers, too. Just this morning, GM's reversal in its attitude toward California's attempts to decrease emissions and increase renewable power is an indication of a values shift, and it's values that our majors are especially well educated to think deeply about.
The University of FindlayWebsite
Dale Brougher Ph.D.: A continual shrinkage of academic positions in the field of Religious Studies.
Dale Brougher Ph.D.: Whatever you end up doing, focus on networking and the development of expertise in the process. The relationships you develop will have a significant impact on your success within the job market.
SUNY College at Old Westbury
Department of History & PhilosophyWebsite
Kyle J. Anderson Ph.D.: The best thing you can do is find something you love and dedicate yourself to it. Find an organization, a cause, a competitive field, and go out and pursue it with all you've got. Try to shoot for tangible outcomes that can be easily described and even quantified on your resume document. For example, I recently had a Philosophy and Religion student come to me for career advice who had volunteered with a community organization during the Covid-19 pandemic and helped feed 30,000 families in the greater New York area. So, as you're going through college, get a job, volunteer, compete, but pick something to pursue and be able to talk about the tangible results of your dedication.
Kyle J. Anderson Ph.D.: The thing about studying philosophy and religion is that the skills you are learning--how to formulate important questions, how and where to seek the answers to those questions in the research process, and how to write and interpret texts--are broadly applicable to many fields. Students have to decide what their personal values are and align those with the field they will pursue in their career, while being aware of the tradeoffs that pursuing a given field entails. So if a student is passionate about making a difference in the world, they might want to pursue work on political campaigns, or in the nonprofit sphere, or in education, but they need to understand that a career in these fields might trade-off with other values, like the ability to quickly save enough money to buy a house and support a family.
With that being said, there are basic skills philosophy, and religion students learn that they can leverage in many fields to keep up with technological change. These include written communication and the ability to put yourself in other peoples' shoes. Students should think carefully about the persona they present to others through their writing and other communication online. Students interested in the private sector--pursuing, for example, positions in marketing, sales, advertising, and media, or perhaps working for a startup or technology company--should use their social media to present themselves as engaged thinkers and engage others on topics that are related to a specific organization or industry they would like to pursue. In the professional world, this is often referred to as "thought leadership." Outside of social media, students could pursue blogging, building a website, publishing an e-book, or starting a newsletter on a service like a substack, all as avenues to establish oneself as a thought leader. Once you've established yourself on such a platform, it is a lot easier to reach out to people in specific organizations--whether by email, phone call, or in-person--and prove that you are a dedicated and knowledgeable person who can contribute to the mission of the organization.
Kyle J. Anderson Ph.D.: I'm not gonna sugar coat it: the situation is not good. The most immediate and significant impact of the pandemic for new graduates is the vast increase in competition for jobs, as those who have been impacted by mass layoffs go back on the job market. You will be competing against people who have years of experience. At the same time, the pandemic has accelerated the normalization of meeting with people virtually instead of face-to-face. This should make it much easier for you to try and build relationships with potential mentors and people who can educate you about what the day-to-day responsibilities are like for different jobs and what the needs of specific employers are.
Once you understand what life is like on the job, and what specific organizations need, you can tailor your narrative of your own life as you apply and interview for jobs. Moreover, through asking questions of people, listening to their answers, and building relationships with them, you just find that job opportunity come your way because people have you in their mind when such opportunities come across your desk. So while the pandemic has increased competition for jobs, the ways in which it has normalized quick Zoom meetings that aren't a big burden for either side should make it easier to talk to people and establish relationships inside of organizations you might be interested in working with.
University of Oregon
Department of Religious StudiesWebsite
Mark Unno: In the field of religious studies and humanities, generally, graduates should be computer-literate, social media savvy, and be able to create an effective web presence, including their own website, blog, etc.
Mark Unno: Religious study is a foundational field. In order to understand global politics, economy, and society, one needs to understand the impact of religious forces. That can lead to careers not only in fields of direct relevance such as academia and ministry but also in journalism, consulting, corporate and governmental intelligence, especially when accompanied by foreign language competence, and translation, interpreting, counseling, and psychotherapy.
Mark Unno: For humanities types, it can be challenging to master digital technology and social media but moving forward, technological competence is essential.
Winebrenner Theological Seminary
Dr. Kathryn Helleman: Seminary graduates entering the workforce need a blend of knowledge, personal dispositions, and practical skills to equip them for ministry. There are traditional skills expected of theological graduates, including the ability to preach, to teach, and to lead worship. Perhaps more critical are the less obvious skills that are no less important, including critical thinking, theological reflection, relationship building, and leadership. Additionally, flexibility will be essential for young graduates entering the ministry in the current era, where membership in many denominations is declining.
Dr. Kathryn Helleman: Seminary graduates often identify work opportunities based on their denominations' areas of activity within the country. Our graduates are increasingly engaged in ministry before completing their coursework and usually remain in their current settings.
Dr. Kathryn Helleman: The impact of technology in the Covid-19 era is profound for the field of ministry. Churches have moved to social media and digital platforms to minister to their congregations during the pandemic. For many, there was a steep learning curve. Today's graduates will need technical skills or the ability to delegate to those who possess these skills while maintaining a clear vision for the church's work in these settings. Many who have grown accustomed to worshiping online will likely continue to desire this flexibility. The ability to record and stream and engage directly through video conferencing will expand the reach of congregations, allowing for the redefinition of what it means to be the church both locally and globally.
Academy for Jewish Religion California
Jonathan L. Friedmann Ph.D.: Surprisingly, we haven't seen major disruptions in synagogue hiring during the pandemic. A few of our recent graduates have landed new cantorial positions in the past few months, and all of our upcoming graduates (spring 2021) have jobs in place. This is partly because synagogues are working extra hard to not only survive and stay relevant but also maintain a semblance of normalcy during these difficult times.
They are offering Shabbat and holiday services online through Zoom or live streaming and finding creative ways to enhance these experiences by using advanced audio and visual technologies. Adding a new leader to the clergy staff, especially a new cantor, helps to generate additional interest. There are, of course, short term losses in terms of decreased charitable donations and some members not wanting to renew until things get back to normal. Many congregations have had to reduce their staff size and/or staff hours. But most remain committed to supporting and using their clergy, including continuing normal hiring practices.
Jonathan L. Friedmann Ph.D.: After the pandemic, most synagogues will likely continue offering streaming options for people who cannot-or do not want to-attend in person. This hybrid model should help to diversify and perhaps expand attendance at worship services and other programs, such as lectures, concerts, and educational offerings.
Jonathan L. Friedmann Ph.D.: Religious affiliation, and Jewish affiliation, in particular, has been declining over the past few decades. Synagogue closures, mergers, and downsizing have been commonplace, even before the current situation. These trends will likely continue, but there is a possibility that, with the expansion of platforms for outreach and participation, synagogues will be able to find new members and new donors to make up for some of these losses.
Hans Harmakaputra Ph.D.: -More contingent faculty positions because institutions are narrowing their budget
-More demands for faculty positions related to online teaching, both synchronous and asynchronous, as more institutions will see the viability and effectiveness of online learning
Hans Harmakaputra Ph.D.: -The distance learning platforms will continue to flourish.
-Video communication software will continue to play important roles as they allow more diverse options in education and seminars and conferences. For tight-budget institutions, webinars and web conferences will be more preferable.
Hans Harmakaputra Ph.D.: Honestly, I am not sure about an increase or decrease as the situation has been terrible since some years ago, and the pandemic makes it even worse. But I believe the jobs themselves will be shifting, as I mentioned in my response to question number 1: more contingent faculty and different sets of skills required for the person to be hired. There is a growing acknowledgment that it is okay for graduates in my field to work outside academia; becoming a tenure track faculty is not the only and indeed not the noblest purpose for PhDs.
Kearley Graduate School of TheologyWebsite
Dr. Randall Bailey Ph.D.: The overall history of the person's educational and practical experience. Has that individual revealed the academic background and its application to demonstrate an ability to use the knowledge to communicate into attitudes and skills for the students.
Dr. Randall Bailey Ph.D.: I believe that evolving technology (speeded up by the pandemic) will revolutionize our society. The technology was already pushing these things (e.g., medical televisions, online education, etc.). However, where there had been resistance to some of these things, the pandemic demanded such changes. My own experience as director of the Kearley Graduate School of Theology (KGST) is an example.
When we applied for accreditation to the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), the organization was hesitant to accredit an online program due to their emphasis on faith-building, etc., which was thought only to be possible via the required time on campus. KGST's program was created as an online program, not requiring a residency requirement. We requested an exception in this requirement and asked that ATS look at our program as an experiment. On the last day of the committee's onsite visit, in their exit report, the chair (from Dallas Theological Seminary) observed, "I have been against online education. However, since I have seen your program, I know what I must do when I go back to my school." Twice since that day, ATS has written to us and requested permission to use our self-study to demonstrate the kinds of things schools must do who are seeking to create online programs.
Ironically (at least to me), this past spring ATS had their Biennial meeting in Vancouver. The organization, which required residency and looked with disfavor on online programs because of the pandemic, had to hold this meeting via ZOOM online without personal attendance.
Further, ATS has just revised its standards, which are much friendlier toward this format than the earlier standards. These standards also removed the name "library" from the standards replacing it with "Resources" or the like. They did this because of whether libraries, in the traditional sense, will even be on campuses anymore. Indeed our masters and Ph.D. students from (many states as well as foreign countries) have no problem with resources for research. Our first Ph.D. students (one in Canada and one in Florida) were planning on coming to graduation because, in their words, "I want to visit the campus I have been attending virtually all these years." The virus prohibited the Canadian student, but the Florida student attended.
Further, when many schools were forced to figure out how to go online with courses, when the pandemic required online education, we were in the fortunate situation that we continued as usual. Since our program was online, we did not have physical classrooms, and many of our professors taught their classes from home already. So there was no disruption for us at all. I am writing this from my home office. I go to my office on campus about one day a week to chat about anything that cannot get done online. Finally, accrediting bodies like the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) for several years have been much more open to this method of instruction. So in one sentence, my answer to this question is that I see technology only increasing and wonder whether some schools will even have classrooms, offices for faculty and staff, physical libraries, etc., in 5 years. I see a total revolution.
Dr. Randall Bailey Ph.D.: Yes, based on my experience, as answered in question 2 above, I believe these graduates will reflect and push further online learning boundaries, distance education. It seems only natural that students should use their experiences to develop new frontiers. So I expect the world to change dramatically in these areas.
Hebrew Programs and Gratz AdvanceWebsite
Dr. Dina Maiben: When discussing Jewish education, it's not a matter of which specific companies are good to work for because Jewish schools tend to be independent operations. Instead, we think that there are particular types of educational settings that are especially good to fit in at this time. First, online schools are especially good right now because of the pandemic, and are likely to continue playing an expanded role even after the anticipated return to in-person learning. Other types of educational settings that show promise are large youth organizations, camps, and college Hillels, as well as some of the innovative start-ups we've seen in recent years. One of the most interesting of these is the Jewish Afterschool program model that combines Jewish education with an after-care model. This was already a growing model before COVID-19 and will likely continue to grow as parents return to fuller employment, and children return to in-person schools.
Dr. Dina Maiben: There is a correlation between the economy and the demand for Jewish education. A strong economy is usually accompanied by a greater need for Jewish education, while a weakening economy generally coincides with a decline in demand for Jewish education. Assuming a strong rebound from the current state of the economy, we will likely see an increase in the need for qualified Jewish educators. However, the educational models that have served the Jewish community for the past 75 years or so will likely give way to other types of settings.
Dr. Dina Maiben: By this, I think that you're asking about geographical locales. I would say that graduates should look to see areas of growth in the Jewish community. Before the pandemic hit, we saw an increase in the Southeast and Southwest. Las Vegas was one of the fastest-growing Jewish cities, for example. Whenever you have demographic growth, there will be a need for qualified educators.
I want to stress that our team at Gratz College pays attention to the changing conditions in the marketplace, and we make adjustments to our programs in response to the changes we see. For example, we used to offer distinctive degrees in Jewish education at both the masters and doctoral levels. But the job market changed as a consequence of the global recession compounded by changing demographics, so we responded by incorporating Jewish education as tracks in our secular M.Ed. and Ed.D. programs. This gives our graduates more flexibility in seeking employment in secular school settings as well as Jewish educational settings. We also opened programs in Jewish Professional Studies, which allows students the most significant amount of flexibility in tailoring a plan to meet their individual needs through a combination of courses in Jewish Studies, education, and nonprofit management.