April 1, 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.
Bowling Green State University
University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh
Washington University in St Louis
University of Michigan
Montana State University
Claremont McKenna College
Illinois State University
Texas Christian University
Eva Baham: With the hope that the economy returns to a sense of normalcy accompanied by stability in family incomes, families and individuals may seek ways to re-add a quality of life to their activities. Visits to museums (inside and outside), libraries, tourist destinations and other venues requiring information guided by sound and reputable knowledge should require individuals with a history background.
Eva Baham: History graduates often apply to law schools. Although this is a delayed profession for an undergraduate degree, there are several sources including the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), which note that a high percentage of students with history degrees are admitted to law school. History's emphasis on research, analysis, and evidence prepare students for law school.
Eva Baham: History graduates also account for their preparation to work in a number of positions in business.
Overall, history degrees shall serve individuals quite well, especially as the current health crisis (hopefully) comes to a close.
Malcolm Forbes Ph.D.: Work from home will become much more normal for many people. Perhaps not 100%, but maybe 2-3 days per week. Chemists with intense lab activities might not get as much of this privilege as others.
WFH will make it easier for women with families to be hired. Companies and managers will be more tuned in to employees' mental health.
Malcolm Forbes Ph.D.: Presentation skills are key - staying up to date on new technologies will be very important (for example, there is now a way to insert yourself into a pptx file and point to things on the slide). Also multiple cameras so you can change perspectives is changing how people give talks. Writing skills are also important, but in industry "less is more" so these skills must be developed to make conciseness a priority. No one reads long emails any more, so clear, short, to the point writing is essential.
Attention to diversity and inclusion will grow - finding internal biases that may or may not be intentional, and how to eliminate or minimize their impact, will also be important.
Malcolm Forbes Ph.D.: Academic salaries are strange. They are tied to a weird "anti-loyalty" system, where a faculty member gets a significant raise as part of a retention package based on a offer from another institution. Otherwise academic salaries at public universities stay at or just ahead of inflation (private institutions are slightly better, but not much). So this game must be played.
At some universities, faculty are unionized. In this case collective bargaining agreements ensure reasonable raises ahead of inflation every year. But this involves paying dues every month and the agreements have to be renegotiated every 3-4 years, which is time-consuming and expensive.
In chemical industry, starting salaries for PhDs have hovered around $80-100K (field dependent) for quite some time and this looks to be stable for some time to come. Bonuses have grown in size in recent years (they had stalled for some time after the 2008 economic downturn).
Gabriel Loiacono: I would say that a good job out of college is an entry-level start to a career you are really curious about. Try it. It could be the start of something interesting. If you hate it, that is really good to know too. You can cross it off your list and try something else.
Gabriel Loiacono: I would say this: history majors go on to a wide variety of good jobs. Historians use their research, writing, communication, and critical reading strengths in careers from insurance to law to you name it. To help with earning potential, strengthen these skills in college, but also branch out and add others: another language, whether it is C++ or Spanish, perhaps a mapping or public administration class. Then you can point to all these skills when you are looking for a good fit for you.
Washington University in St Louis
Institute for Conservation Medicine
Sharon Deem DVM, PhD: I teach a course called One Health: Linking the Health of Humans, Animals, and Environments. I teach to both undergraduate and graduate students. One Health is a growing movement that takes a transdisciplinary approach and is based on the understanding that the health of human and non-human animals, plants, and the environments that sustain all life are interconnected. We will not have health of one without ensuring health of the others. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call of this interconnection of health and to the many human public health, including zoonotic infectious diseases such as SARS-CoV-2, and wildlife conservation challenges, such as those related to the unsustainable trade in wildlife. A wakeup call that has made many aware of the need for a One Health approach and for finding a new normal post-pandemic world that will help ensure we prevent the next pandemic.
The outlook for recent graduates that are interested in the One Health approach and for addressing these health challenges for humans, animals, and environments-the One Health Triad-will increase in the coming years. I believe career opportunities that strive for preventive measures that lessen the negative impacts of climate change, emerging infectious diseases, and the loss of biodiversity will increase greatly in the coming months and years. These career opportunities may be in the environmental, veterinary, and human health sciences. They may also be in other disciplines, from communication and art to IT, engineering, law, and political science. The job market will open with positions we may only dream of today, but also with those familiar jobs that help optimize the health of animals, humans, and environments.
Sharon Deem DVM, PhD: This question is a tough one. In my mind, certificates/licenses/courses that will have the biggest impact on job prospects are the ones for which you have a passion. Life is short and work is long! I am a true believer that you will be successful and make a difference for the world if you pursue study, and ultimately a career, in a topic, or topics, for which you are interested. Beyond that, I think all young scholars would do well to possess more than one spoken language, have a good grasp of statistics, know how to communicate beyond a tweet or tic-toc post, and understand local, national and world politics.
Sharon Deem DVM, PhD: My field of One Health is so varied, as are the salaries. You may have a career as an infectious disease specialist, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, a position in a state public health agency, work for a zoological park, or be a forester. The list of careers within One Health are as varied as the range of the salaries people may receive. As a wildlife veterinarian and epidemiologist, I think salaries have not changed significantly, albeit keeping up with inflation, over the past couple of decades.
University of Michigan
Computational Medicine & Bioinformatics and Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience Institute
Margit Burmeister Ph.D.: With everything going online, bioinformaticians have a big advantage over biologists working in wet labs that may be operating at reduced capacity. But on the other hand, in many companies and Universities, employees willing to come in and work in person also have advantages. Overall, those who can pivot rapidly - work in person in wet lab if open and required, but able to work for several weeks analytically only, have the best chances.
However, academic positions are frozen at many Universities, so those who are in postdoc positions hoping for faculty positions can't move on.
Worldwide the biggest trend is women dropping out.
Margit Burmeister Ph.D.: For bioinformaticians, having statistics degrees or certification helps, as does machine learning. Some bioinformaticians end up in health care, while others end up in software engineering.
Margit Burmeister Ph.D.: Bioinformaticians' salaries are higher than typical molecular biologists and can reach as high as computer scientists, hence salaries straight out of PhD can differ by more than a factor of 4. It is hard to give a trend over time because it so depends on the field one enters.
Rui Diogo Ph.D.: Probably yes, because the pandemic has decreased the economy, so all kind of jobs are affected.
Rui Diogo Ph.D.: Most people having a master or phd in anatomy tend to have jobs at universities, teaching anatomy at medical schools and doing research. Outside academia it is more difficult for an anatomist. Possible options could be working in natural history museums, or in the production of anatomical/educational textbooks.
Rui Diogo Ph.D.: To include, in their graduate studies, more components that will open them the door to other potential jobs, for instance including classes on science dissemination so they can eventually work on the press/science dissemination in the future, and so on.
Montana State University
Department of Native American Studies
Dr. Walter Fleming Ph.D.: The pandemic has been particularly difficult for Native communities and other people of color, as well as people living in pockets of poverty. Many people in indigenous communities have passed away due to complications of COVID. Native communities have been hit particularly hard because of the already high health disparities, such as heart disease and diabetes. Much cultural knowledge has been lost because of the high toll among our Elders. It will no doubt take generations to recover from the loss of knowledge due to COVID 19, if at all. As they say, when an Elder dies, it is like a library has burned down.
Graduates in ethnic studies should be aware that these communities have many challenges and have already experienced historical trauma. The communities are looking to rebuild and reestablish their infrastructures and lifeways.
Dr. Walter Fleming Ph.D.: In ethnic studies, there are opportunities in tribal communities, working in many fields, but particularly those supporting the infrastructure of such communities. There are high demands for teachers, social workers, nurses, health care providers and other areas in the "helping professions," as these are critical needs in these communities. The isolation in such communities can mean high turnover but often that can mean higher entry level salaries. More importantly, there is a sense of satisfaction working with communities who struggle.
Dr. Walter Fleming Ph.D.: It would be important to someone in Native American Studies to have worked with tribal communities, perhaps with an internship or field experience. A familiarity with the history of Native people and some knowledge of Indigenous culture is quite important. A willingness to work in more isolated communities can often result in a higher salary as it is difficult to recruit otherwise. But, one needs to recognize that tribal communities are historic areas of poverty.
Claremont McKenna College
Daniel Livesay Ph.D.: It's always hard to predict the future, especially with so much uncertainty in the job market right now. It seems unavoidable, though, that companies will have to make major adjustments in the coming months and years. That means that graduates will have to hold a number of different skills: strong organization, excellent communication, and passionate drive. Those are always employable characteristics and I imagine they'll still be needed in the post-pandemic economy.
Daniel Livesay Ph.D.: Our graduates in History have told us how important all of their classes have been on developing their critical thinking and communication skills. Indeed, those are some of the most important attributes to have when they go onto the job market. There are some careers that need very specialized undergraduate degrees or certifications. For most, though, there is a lot of on-the-job training. That means that flexibility, creativity, and intellect can go a long way, even if one isn't necessarily an expert in the field. So, we always tell our students to emphasize those skills when they apply for jobs.
Daniel Livesay Ph.D.: Salaries have been challenging to track over the last year due to the pandemic. However, we have noticed that History majors continue to do earn strong salaries after graduation over the last ten years. In particular, salary evaluations of History majors show that they take off four to five years after graduation. Typically, that is because History majors have honed communication and critical thinking skills that set them up well for promotions and career advancement.
Ross Kennedy: I think most of the basic trends will stay the same as they were pre-pandemic: jobs related to information, communication, health care, and clean energy industries will be growth leaders; the wage gap between those with a college education and those without one will continue to widen; businesses will seek to diversify the ranks of management; and employers will put a premium on finding employees who can adapt quickly to changes in technology and culture. Probably the main impact of the pandemic will be that employers will include more remote work in their way of doing business and will therefore want employees who are willing and able to work effectively from home.
Ross Kennedy: They should have skills associated with an education grounded in the liberal arts. There have been a lot of surveys and studies on what tech and non-tech business leaders want in their employees and they all reveal the same thing: they want employees who understand human nature and psychology, who have a sense of empathy and an ability to put themselves in someone else's shoes, and who can think creatively to solve problems. They also highly value people who can write clearly and effectively, who have the ability to construct a concise, persuasive argument. Most broadly, they want people who know how to think analytically and how to learn.
Ross Kennedy: Several studies have shown that History majors, like other liberal arts majors, tend to start out after graduation with somewhat lower salaries than other fields, such as nursing or accounting, but that after ten years or so, there is little difference. In other words, by age 40 or so, the earnings of people who majored in history catch up with those who earned degrees in science or engineering, with all majors having a median income of around $80,000.
Anthony Miller: I think it's quite clear that employers will expect job candidates to be flexible and creative in a number of ways given the ongoing pandemic. Where people work, what roles they take on, new ways to think about collaborating with peers, abrupt schedule changes, and rethinking how to deliver goods and services remotely with public safety in mind are now en vogue and likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. Adjusting to that kind of workplace means workers must adapt and exhibit strong time management, effective written communication, and collaborate with their co-workers with energy and enthusiasm.
Anthony Miller: Honestly, right now a recent graduate's "day at work" for one day to the next will likely not look the same. I think it should be expected that recent graduates will spend one day working remotely from the home, and the next be called into workspace with their colleagues face-to-face. Recent graduates will also likely have their jobs go from having no travel at present, to a time in the near future when work trips will be a regular expectation from their employer. The one feature that I would expect to be a regular, day-to-day, part of the job would be continuing education to learn new platforms and technologies to enhance their performance at work. So, spending an hour or two each day researching or acquiring new skills, that is something that I think will become a daily routine.
Anthony Miller: 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.
John Nielsen Ph.D.: I saw a lot of seniors in the spring who had job offers have those offers rescinded or deferred after the pandemic hit. Things improved a bit in the summer, but until the pandemic is over, hiring just isn't going to return to normal.
John Nielsen Ph.D.: History majors are problem-oriented and have the ability to work collaboratively. They are able to pull together disparate data, analyze it effectively, and present clear interpretations or solutions. These are skills that are transferable to multiple fields and industries and will always be valued by employers
John Nielsen Ph.D.: Most people assume History is the study of the past. It's not. It's the study of change over time. With change happening faster and faster, the ability to analyze change-to both understand causes and anticipate effects-is a skill that History majors possess. Applying those skills in the workplace can be a real value-add for History majors.
Dongwoo Kim: This will depend on how fast the US economy gets back on track. If we recover the pre-pandemic level of economic activity quickly, graduates entering the job market in 2021 may not experience the negative labor market shock of the pandemic.
If the recovery takes longer, then graduates entering the job market in 2021 will most likely experience a negative effect similar to those who enter the job market during a recession. Labor economics papers have documented that graduates entering the job market during recessions suffer significant initial earnings losses mainly through higher likelihood of mismatch and employment at lower paying employers. These initial earnings losses are reported to fade after 6 to 10 years.
Dongwoo Kim: I believe that as an economics major, it is important to demonstrate quantitative skills to employers. One way is to show that you can objectively examine data by testing hypotheses and making inferences. Taking econometrics courses and getting yourself familiarized with statistical programs such as R, STATA, and Excel would provide strong evidence for it.
In addition to developing analytical skills, I believe it is important to (1) understand and follow directions, (2) work to deadlines, and (3) work effectively and efficiently with others. Working well with others in a group project is a crucial skill. Above all, employers would appreciate it if a potential employee has skills that pertain to being proactive.