February 20, 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.
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
University of New Hampshire
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey-Newark
Utah State University
East Tennessee State University
University of Akron
West Liberty University
Brady Collins Ph.D.: More remote work/teleworking.
Brady Collins Ph.D.: Ability to collaborate and work in teams, delegate tasks, manage short-term and long-term projects simultaneously.
Brady Collins Ph.D.: Depends on the state/locality.
David Brown: Working amidst a global pandemic has forced many sectors of the economy to conduct its affairs online and via Zoom and other cloud platforms. In a sense this is nothing new as the technology and capacity predated the pandemic, though our new social distance reality has made the use of such applications second nature for many. This way of conducting business will undoubtedly be embellished moving forward. Interestingly, one need not be particularly tech savvy to take advantage of the opportunities it affords. Communication and good writing skills are always in demand. Being able to interact effectively with colleagues and clients throughout the day and from great distance will be increasingly a premium skill.
David Brown: It's critical to be able to work as a team. Empathy, understanding, a bit of diplomacy, and integrity - aside from the obvious need of technical competency - are highly valued. As always, motivation is terribly important and this can be conjoined with flexibility. If energy and attitude remain positive this will rub off on others and create an attractive dynamic that draws people in. Finally, the ability to make a decision and follow through with it is perhaps too little appreciated.
David Brown: Salaries have generally kept up with inflation, though with the decline of funding in the Humanities disciplines, the number of jobs has not been robust. There is a wide variance in compensation within a highly stratified university system that includes adjuncts, lecturers, visiting faculty and full-time faculty in the ranks of assistant, associate, and full professor. There is an increasing interest in pubic history - in museums, archives, and historical societies - that provide opportunities for those seeking opportunities outside of the academy.
Richard Witmer Ph.D.: Students interested in preparing for life after the pandemic, and/or graduation will need to start online with internships. In-person opportunities will be harder to come by.
In addition, I expect the job market to continue to reward skilled applicants. This includes liberal arts students with evidence of research and presentation skills. Students with more advanced skills in quantitative research and statistical analysis should find the job search less daunting as well. Having the ability to show this on a resume is even more important now as new and recent grads compete for the same jobs.
Richard Witmer Ph.D.: With the move to online a few key ones are adaptability, a willingness to continue to learn, teamwork, and reliability.
Richard Witmer Ph.D.: Students with specific skills, like research and statistical methods, have been able to command a higher salary and have found it easier to find jobs.
Dr. Kenneth Klemow Ph.D.: I believe that certain fields will be stronger than others. In particular, we have been speaking with hiring managers for Medical Laboratory Science. They cannot find enough qualified candidates to fill their positions. Wilkes University has a relatively small program in MLS that we are planning to expand to satisfy that demand.
Dr. Kenneth Klemow Ph.D.: Related to the first question, I believe that certification in Medical Lab Science would be important. Likewise, having certification or coursework in Virology, Epidemiology, or Disease Ecology would be helpful. We are seeing more interest in Data Analysis skills, as well as Bioinformatics at both the molecular and environmental levels. Finally, having certification in Geographic Information Systems is important in many applications. Beyond that, students should have good written and oral communication skills, be flexible, and be capable of learning new techniques as the market provides opportunities.
Dr. Kenneth Klemow Ph.D.: I don't have sufficient familiarity with salary trends to give a good answer, though I know that individuals with data analysis skills command relatively high salaries.
Ronald Boucher: The development of soft skills is extremely important in the hospitality industry as a whole. Since dining out will become more expensive the customer expectation will also increase. I often remind my students that we are in the business of saying yes and that we are not in the business of saying no. A trained professional figures out how to satisfy the customer by exceeding expectations by utilizing and implementing soft skills learned at the University of New Hampshire.
Ronald Boucher: Given the pandemic, the hospitality industry is in the process of re-inventing itself. This shift has been needed for a long time and the pandemic is demanding that these changes take place. Smart operators are changing how they conduct business and figuring out how to best meet not only their customer's needs but also their employees needs as well.
All of these changes will shrink the labor pool because of streamlining operational efficiencies. However, the pleasure of dining out will not go away. In fact, the industry will need educated and trained professionals to meet this new demand. In fact, the good part is that salaries and benefits to employees will increase as well. This will mean that it is going out to eat will get more expensive for the consumer but that has to be expected and accepted.
I recently informed my freshmen students that they are positioned to have many new opportunities afforded to them for personal and job growth after graduation in four years. In addition the work place environment will be a much friendlier, more respectful and more appreciative environment.
Ronald Boucher: As previously mentioned salaries on all levels are going to increase substantially especially for those whom have obtained a college degree in the hospitality field. The industry now recognizes that we have to improve the way that it has been doing business. Regaining customer confidence will take time but it will happen. Creating a safe, friendly and courteous environment will transcend the industry. Educated professionals will take the lead on this and help to re-establish consumer confidence and customer satisfaction. Personally, as a result of the pandemic I believe that it is safer to eat out now than it has been for decades. Proper use of sanitation and safety protocols are here to stay.
Dr. Rachel Emas Ph.D.: The courses or certifications that have the greatest impact on a person's public service job prospects are highly dependent on that person's career goals. Some of the courses that are helpful for nearly all public servants include topics like grant writing, administrative ethics, leadership of organizations, equity and diversity, and evidence-based decision making.
Dr. Rachel Emas Ph.D.: The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of good governance and effective public services. I believe that career opportunities in the public sector will grow as we better support our local and state governments. Public service careers in the nonprofit sector will also advance, as we have witnessed the significance of these organizations in supporting and uplifting people in times of crisis. Within the field of public administration, I believe that the healthcare, technology, infrastructure, and emergency management fields will be a critical focus. It is also important that public servants understand and address issues of inequity, injustice, and systemic oppression throughout all social systems and public institutions.
Dr. Rachel Emas Ph.D.: Given the expansiveness of the field of public administration and the range of job types, I am not sure of the data on salary changes over time.
Dr. John Stevens: At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, I saw an almost immediate drop in hiring statisticians and data scientists -- not for lack of need, but more for lack of certainty on the part of the employers. I think a lot of companies had to pause to wait and see what the pandemic would bring. While the pandemic has lasted longer than most of us first thought it would, fortunately the hiring freezes didn't last as long. By September/October 2020 I started to see job openings more frequently, and while I can't say for certain that things are back to 'normal', it looks like a lot of companies have figured out their new path forward and are back to filling needed positions. Many of these positions now include greater flexibility in location and hours, but I've also noticed that the salaries are sometimes less than they would have been a year ago. At the same time, many positions are reopening with salaries as high as before. There does seem to be more salary variability now, and I don't know how long this will last.
Dr. John Stevens: In statistics and data science, there are a lot of good jobs for people with BS degrees, and those who also have a MS degree have more opportunities longer-term for team leadership. For higher-level leadership (like VP-level), a lot of companies do look for the PhD degree, but in statistics and data science many students don't consider going that far because they can already get a good-paying job in industry with the BS or MS. I think those who look longest-term and seriously consider getting a PhD (even without any academic career goals) will have tremendous senior leadership opportunities down the road. That's not to say you can't develop those opportunities in other ways, and of course there's no substitute for good, hard work, in any field. For shorter-term boosts in job prospects, the hot things now are Python and R programming, but I'd emphasize the need to do more than just taste those things in a surface-level introduction. True understanding and value only come with deep experience, and deep experience requires real, dedicated time.
Dr. John Stevens: In my field, I can say that the future continues to be very bright for statistics and data science. The corporate vocabulary is still evolving, so I tell my students to search for jobs with a variety of keywords. Most employers need statisticians and data scientists, even if they don't call them that. The reason that these are good jobs is because the need is ever-growing with the ongoing data explosion, and people who can really develop deep experience (meaning they really understand core ideas and can see connections between topics) will be in high demand even as new data-generating technologies are developed.
Paul Trogen Ph.D.: The new "normal" will not be like the old normal. The virus may circulate for years (Daniela Hernandez and Drew Hinshaw, "Virus to Stay After Crisis Fades," Wall Street Journal, 1-8-2021 p. 1A). According to the census bureau, about two-thirds of civilian public sector jobs are in local government. Since local government revenues have fallen due to the closure of many small businesses, cash strapped governments may hire fewer entry-level employees this year. It may take longer to begin your career. If you must take a "lifeboat" job, pick something that will give you skills you can use in your intended career.
Paul Trogen Ph.D.: Some surveys suggest that as many as half of local government jobs may be filled by business graduates. One should take courses similar to what those business students study. One of our graduate students surveyed local governments, and found the skills most in demand included accounting, human resource management, budgeting, public relations, and risk management. The ability to use spreadsheets and communicate clearly with tables and graphs helps. Quantitative skills like linear programming, PERT/CPM, inventory models, and queuing theory will make you an indispensable problem solver. Some high demand niches that are unique to the public sector include geographic information systems (GIS), city planning, and economic development. Hard skills will increase your chances of landing an interview.
Paul Trogen Ph.D.: Soft skills will smooth human interactions. Communicating clearly and politely is nearly as important as what you have to say. Active listening skills and a desire to see things from the other person's perspective help build rapport. Honesty and keeping your word help maintain that rapport. Learning about motivation and social psychology will enable you to help others to meet their goals by working towards organizational goals. Treating others as you would like them to treat you will help you build healthy work relationships.
Department of Health Care Management
Wendy Brown: Employers have become acutely aware that employees can be productive and successful while working remotely. Being comfortable using Zoom, Webex, MS Teams and similar applications will be imperative. Those with skills in Healthcare Finance will be in demand. Revenue maximization in healthcare organizations is key now. Healthcare organizations have been financially stretched as a result of COVID-19. While federal financial assistance may be available to these healthcare organizations through the CARES Act, there are very strict reimbursement criteria that must be met. It demands that financial and legal experts be part of the spending, contracting and service delivery process.
Wendy Brown: Neither skill is universal and sometimes it is difficult to find one person who is skilled at both.
Wendy Brown: Jobs can be found anywhere in the U.S., but there is definitely more opportunity in any area where individuals over 60 years of age are prevalent.
Department of Geography and Environmental Planning
Sya Kedzior Ph.D.: Some of the most enduring impacts that we might see are changes to the places in which some work can be performed. Many employers have learned that employees don't need to be located in a centralized building or office in order to work effectively. This means that today's graduates may encounter a lot more flexibility when it comes to the hours and places in which their work can be performed. This may be particularly true for geography graduates, as they tend to end up in fields that involve a combination of independent, technical office work and outdoors or "field-based" work. Of course this will vary significantly. While the idea of flexibility may appeal to a lot of our graduates, it is worth pointing out that employers may have a harder time setting limits and may expect more from their employees due to this flexibility. It will therefore probably be more important than ever for our graduates to learn useful skills related to maintaining boundaries and "work-life balance", as well as getting used to independently documenting their work and accomplishments.
Sya Kedzior Ph.D.: Some of the best jobs for recent graduates are those that combine technical expertise and social skills. Our recent graduates have found great jobs with environmental organizations or consultancy firms where they are spending part of their week outdoors doing "field-based" or "community-outreach" work and part of their work week in the "office" writing or doing technical work. Using a variable skill base means that you're not doing the same repetitive tasks over time, but it also means that you might provide more "value" to a potential employer and therefore demand a higher salary/benefits package.
Sya Kedzior Ph.D.: The ability to understand technical or complex scientific processes and communicate that information with the public is one of the most attractive skills for an entry-level worker to possess. Many employers may not have staff skilled in the latest GIS technologies or social media trends. While the ability to use last year's software or network via Instagram might not seem particularly novel to recent graduates, these are skills less likely to be found in the workforce of even 10 years ago. Geographers are particularly well prepared for today's workforce because they've often had coursework across the "hard" and social sciences, along with training in technical skills (usually GIS or quantitative analysis) and written and oral communication skills. Another skill in high demand today is data collection and analysis. I often talk with potential employers who want to hire people who can develop and administer a public survey, and then analyze and write up the results. That requires understanding human behavior, public communication, and different forms of data analysis. But, these are skills that can be developed in perhaps only a few classes as part of a major or minor in Geography and other cognate fields.
Dr. Bill Lyons: Work that can be done remotely has been undisrupted while other work has been struggling to survive. In education, the argument about advancing online education is over: online education is here to stay.
Dr. Bill Lyons: Conflict Management/Transformation skills. Quantitative analysis skills. Writing skills. Creativity and imagination skills developed in the arts.
Dr. Bill Lyons: A job that pays the bills, challenges the mind, soothes the heart and gives one a chance to change the world for the better.
West Liberty University
Melinda Kreisberg Ph.D.: While most of our students move into graduate and professional school programs, we have seen students finding jobs in hospital diagnostic laboratories and in medical research laboratories at a higher rate than in the past. Our ecologically prepared students are also finding employment in various government agencies as interns performing field studies in biodiversity and endangered species.
Melinda Kreisberg Ph.D.: We recommend they stay entrenched in the field of study. Whether that is volunteering with medical or environmental agencies, taking additional coursework to increase their knowledge and skills base, interning with the government or other in-field entity, or finding a 'gap year' job in a medical laboratory, a research laboratory, as a medical scribe, as a field technician, or some other field-related position depends on the student's ultimate goal and, based on their academic and experience record, where they might benefit from 'beefing up' their future applications.
Melinda Kreisberg Ph.D.: To keep their eyes on the ultimate goal. If the student is matriculating in a graduate or professional school, those first few years take a toll. The students need to know that they will face hurdles but if they remain focused on the end goal, that will help them through the rough times. If the student is moving into a job, they need to always be enthusiastic and jump at opportunities to try new things within the job environment. The more experience and skills they obtain, the stronger position they place themselves in for promotion or for other employment opportunities.