April 13, 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.
University of Vermont
Penn State Erie, The Behrend College
Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota
SUNY New Paltz
Clarion University of Pennsylvania
St. John Fisher College
State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo
Texas A&M University
University of Vermont
Grossman School of BusinessWebsite
Madison Berry: There will definitely be an enduring impact on students who graduate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, I think this may be more of an emotional or mental impact than a career one. Everyone will have that shared experience of a very strange year. They may be more likely to jump at new opportunities and feel a little more comfortable taking risks to get experience. Everyone is worried about "falling behind" and also tired of being in quarantine - so that may fuel some big career moves in the first few years out of college!
I think expectations for work-life balance and flexibility for work may also come out of this. Students know a lot more about their own working styles now - they have been forced over this time to try online, in-person, and hybrid learning, and they've seen how all of those options suit them. I think there will be a higher desire for remote work opportunities for some, while others now know remote is *definitely* not the work environment they want.
Madison Berry: The bachelor's degree is still the gold standard for employment out of college, but a specific degree isn't as necessary as we might think. We have UVM alumni come visit us to talk about their storied careers in Finance, and they graduated with Political Science, Engineering, and Sociology degrees. Some industries are more rigid than others - having a Masters of Accountancy and passing your CPA is key for working in many accounting areas, for example - but when it comes to wanting to work in business, being able to show transferrable and useful skills is most important. Critical thinking, problem solving, willingness to learn, and communication skills are key.
Madison Berry: Honestly, being willing to negotiate is going to become a bigger and bigger factor in earning potential. Do your research, know your worth, and stand up for what you think you should be paid. This is tricky right out of college, but with experience it becomes more and more powerful.
Of course, specialized certifications can also help - again, adding credentials relevant to your field will show initiative and focus. Adding tangential skills can also help make you a candidate for more specialized roles. We have employers come to us from the Finance industry looking for students who can code and analyze data; marketing is full of specialized roles for working with social media, consumer data, and technology integration. Finding your niche of interest and building skills through courses and personal projects can make you a more attractive candidate with more negotiating power.
Penn State Erie, The Behrend College
Psychology, School of Humanities & Social SciencesWebsite
Lisa Elliott Ph.D.: Yes, the virus has stalled many projects and created a pent-up demand for hiring. We expect that as the pandemic lifts, projects will be back on track and hiring will pick up. In general, psychologists with a background in human factors are highly sought after as we work in nearly every industry and in government. We expect that students will find a robust job market in the years ahead in human factors/user experience design.
Lisa Elliott Ph.D.: In human factors, there have been several attempts to create a licensing structure, but none has gained traction. Students who have a good electronic portfolio, know the basics of experimentation, know statistics, and have several user experience or human factors projects are very competitive in the job market. An electronic portfolio on any of the predominant portfolio sites or a website is best.
Lisa Elliott Ph.D.: We are starting to see demand for data visualization in addition to the traditional user experience education requirements. Students who can take unstructured data sets and create a meaningful story helps the organization and the user understand complex situations. We expect that data visualization and data modeling will be a future skill for those in human factors psychology and for user experience design professionals.
School of BusinessWebsite
Chris Huseman Ph.D.: I can foresee several business reconsidering their business structure from a brick and mortar to continuing in a virtual office space. This can be a wonderful opportunity for businesses to gain a more diverse work force with enhanced skillsets that may have been limited in the past to geographical barriers, travel and moving expenses. Businesses will also, with this in mind, want to see more proof of a job candidate's competencies and offer them virtual "tests" to assess their abilities. This now can be done with far less costs than it was before. Candidates will be challenged to showcase their skillsets and a greater importance on their production, critical thinking and creativity will be demanded. We have seen many new graduates finish their schooling in a virtual on online context. Candidates are going to have to embrace a digital world but yet develop ways to still ensure they and the company they work for are able to communicate and provide a personable experience and brand to customers they serve. There will also be a high importance placed on a candidate's ability to be flexible and adapt to change like never before.
Chris Huseman Ph.D.: Certifications are being offered by a variety of organizations and entities. Job prospects need to critically evaluate the offering organizations of such and their reputations. Having several certifications myself and reviewing many that are offered, the Professional Certified Marketer certifications offered by the American Marketing Association are among the best investments a person in marketing can make. The PCM Digital Marketing, for example, is a rigorous certification that covers the digital marketing landscape extremely well. It is very affordable and is backed by one of the leading organizations in the field of marketing. In addition, specifically to the digital marketing field, Google Garage's Digital Marketing Certification is good and it's free along with several other free ones from Google. As well, Hubspot offers several wonderful certifications that are free and speak to the heart of skills required in the field of Digital Marketing.
Chris Huseman Ph.D.: Yes, salaries have changed in the marketing field because of the fragmentation of specialties that have developed especially in the digital marketing field. In the past, a marketing specialist was amongst the more common entry level positions. Today, I see less general entry level positions and more specific channel positions such as Social Media Specialists, E-mail Delivery Specialist, Paid Media Specialists and others. On the positive side, I see this as a benefit to new hires as it gives them the opportunity to focus within their responsibilities and develops their skillsets much quicker in that area than they would be if they were responsible for more general duties. From my observation and in talking with students, salaries are higher and there is a greater focus in such responsibilities. Smaller companies especially are realizing they can be more efficient with remote solutions while still maintaining camaraderie, production and cohesiveness of their staff members. On the other side, new hires seem to be less worried about higher salaries when they don't have to relocate or have expenses such as daily work travel, clothing expenses, and they can enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere. Salaries have changed but the bigger change is in the work/life balance new hires are able to maintain, which is a high priority for students.
Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota
Counseling Psychology DepartmentWebsite
Dr. LaRae Jome Ph.D.: Yes, while we might try to get back to "normal" or pre-pandemic times, there will likely be an enduring impact on psychology graduates.
For those psychology students who have been finishing their college degrees during this time, they may not have been able to participate fully in internship, volunteer, or research experiences with faculty. These out-of-classroom experiences can be useful in obtaining employment after college or in having a more competitive applications to graduate schools in psychology. On the positive side, many of the "soft skills" that psychology undergraduates learn in college will be very valued in the post-pandemic workplace. We are seeing an increased need for workers who have good critical thinking, listening, and empathy skills.
Dr. LaRae Jome Ph.D.: College graduates with a psychology major have a number of valuable skills needed in the workplace, including critical thinking, communication, and empathy. The undergraduate psychology major prepares students for a wide range of jobs, but because, like other liberal arts majors, it does not provide training toward a particular job, psychology graduates will be competing with other graduates for similar entry-level jobs. Gaining internship or research experiences while in school can help students gain experience in specific areas, which can help with getting jobs. For psychology graduates who are interested in social service positions that do not require an advanced degree, the demand for these jobs will likely be high. While these jobs tend to be lower pay, compared to other jobs that require a college degree, there will likely be a great need for assistance in social service programs.
In order to get a job within the field of psychology, college graduates need to pursue a master's degree or doctoral degree and then get licensed to practice counseling or psychology in the state in which they live.
The impact of the pandemic on psychology students who continue on to pursue a master's or doctoral degree may actually be quite positive in terms of job prospects. The pandemic was a difficult time for most people, whether it was living in isolation, losing a job, being afraid of getting sick, or just the fear that comes with not knowing what is going to happen in the future. Many people sought mental health care during the pandemic to help with feelings of anxiety or depression, and the stigma of seeking counseling services is deceasing for many people. Master's level counselors and doctoral-level psychologists are trained to help people with a wide range of emotional issues and it is likely that as we move into a post-pandemic world, there will be an increased need for counseling services.
Dr. LaRae Jome Ph.D.: As with other fields, the higher the degree you have, the greater your earning potential. The master's degree in counseling typically requires two years of graduate school and a year of supervision before getting licensed as a counselor. The highest degree is the doctoral degree (either a PhD or a PsyD) and you need a doctorate and to be licensed in your state in order to be a psychologist.
One of the ways that counselors and psychologists can potentially increase their earning potential is by having their own private practice or by launching other services beyond individual client sessions, such as providing groups, workshops, and coaching or consulting services.
SUNY New Paltz
Deptment of Digital Media and Journalism
Felicia Hodges: I think there will definitely be fallout from the pandemic for soon-to-be graduates simply because it has been such a difficult year - and it ain't over yet. Maybe the hard, fast, "deadlines are sacrosanct!" imprints that were par for the non-COVID course haven't been so much lately, as a bulk of pandemic life has been about accounting for what students might have been/are dealing with due necessary COVID-induced work or lifestyle changes. And because many of the "real world" training/trial outlets weren't available (i.e. school print publications had to shift schedules or halt publishing altogether as staffs weren't able to meet in person; internships were non-existent or done almost entirely virtually, etc.), there weren't concrete ways to help students put the theories of what they learned in the classroom to practical use. It may be a steep learning curve for the newly-degreed journalism (as well as other media) practitioners.
Felicia Hodges: A day at work for new graduates probably won't include being surrounded by co-workers in a newsroom/editorial space. It might lean more toward a lot of marketing/lobbying for a freelance gig from a home office instead. As journalists are often encouraged to hone their skills at smaller outlets (community newspapers, small radio/broadcast stations or boutique firms for instance), it could be devastating to those new to the job market to realize that many of those spaces no longer exist or aren't able to hire anything other than freelancers due to financial fallout from the pandemic as well as the nature of newspaper restructuring, buyouts and mergers.
Felicia Hodges: Flexibility and willingness to adapt will help all media practitioners increase their earning potential. If you are a photojournalist who shoots still images for print and/or online publications, get familiar with video. If you are passionate about covering crime or government beats, have more than a working knowledge of sports and education, too. Heck, learn photojournalism basics! In other words, versatility is necessary and it will be expected.
Clarion University of Pennsylvania
Management & Marketing DepartmentWebsite
Dr. Miguel Olivas-Luján Ph.D.: As the economy "reopens" (thanks to appeased fears of contagion driven by vaccination, herd immunity, people worn out by the lockdowns, warmer weather, etc.), we should see workforce adjustments across industries and occupations. Already in March, unemployment was returning to 6% (from a high of 14.8% in April 2020, but after a low of 3.5 in February 2020; https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000). Barring unexpected resistance in the virus variants or other influences, the summer and fall months should give us better job market numbers, but this recovery seems to be benefitting some population segments more than others. The unemployed rate for teenagers was at 13%, followed by Blacks (9.6%), Hispanics (7.9%), Asians (6%), adult men (5.8%), and adult women (5.7%; more detail is available at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm).
Dr. Miguel Olivas-Luján Ph.D.: Of course, there is variation across industries, but the long lockdown months have highlighted the need for skills that make telecommuting and work from home more efficient and effective. The ability to use not just technologies but also work habits that allow collaboration mediated by information and communication tools has only become more valuable. With this, I mean that it is important to use Zoom, Teams, Skype, and similar technologies, but even more than that, scheduling, collaboration, creative, professional-grade, and timely delivery (in the absence of face-to-face interaction) is vital. If a higher proportion of work-from-home becomes predominant (as many commentators expect), these skills are likely to differentiate high-performers from their counterparts.
Dr. Miguel Olivas-Luján Ph.D.: Again, there is wide variation across industries and occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a nationwide drop (relative to the previous month) of 4 cents in average hourly earnings for workers on private payrolls, but an increase of 2 cents for private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees; little changes were observed for healthcare and information employers (https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm). The largest gains (on a yearly basis) were reported by the Financial activities sector, and the lowest by Mining and logging (https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t19.htm). Unfortunately, the BLS does not publish regional data, but I am confident that some states have observed more gains than others.
St. John Fisher College
Department of EconomicsWebsite
Clair Smith Ph.D.: Yes, I'm sure there will be an enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic on graduates. The latter part of their college experience was fundamentally different from what they expected. Besides the obvious changes to how classes were conducted, social, athletic, and internship opportunities were all diminished or altered. They lived something very different from what they were expecting. It was often hard. Yet for many of them, these challenges and struggles formed the crucible in which students developed adaptability and resilience. And those traits will be valuable for them going forward both personally and professionally.
Clair Smith Ph.D.: I don't think there is a simple answer to this. What constitutes a good job out of college varies widely. Ultimately I hope every graduate lands in a place where they can use their interests, skills, and passion to do something they find meaningful and for which they are fairly compensated. While some people may find that immediately upon graduation, others may have to gain additional experience and credibility to get there.
Clair Smith Ph.D.: St. John Fisher is at its core a liberal arts college, and I'm a firm believer that a grounding in how to reason and make sound independent judgments is critical. And in Economics, that's what we do. I believe that graduates who can effectively reason and think through the implications of important decisions, who have quantitative skills to analyze and interpret data to inform those decisions, and who can powerfully communicate those arguments to others through the written and spoken word will have the greatest professional success and financial remuneration.
Madeleine Felion: - Increased wages and a focus on upskilling and reskilling are some of the biggest trends we're seeing, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic further accelerates the demand for certain skillsets.
- The ability to work from home - if the position allows, remote work and the flexibility it offers is here to stay.
- Safety is also top of mind for employers. Companies have made production schedule changes to accommodate social distancing, as well as implemented virtual processes for the application and onboarding phases, such as video and telephone interviews replacing in-person interviews.
Madeleine Felion: - In many hourly positions, math and measurement skills are increasingly sought after by companies - these skills can apply to several jobs from quality to CNC machining.
- Data entry and accuracy is a skill many nontraditional jobs are asking for as machines become more automated. Computer skills continue to stand out as it also applies to many in-demand roles.
- Other skills include experience working with ERP software systems such as SAP, Oracle and Syteline. Niche skills such as lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, 5S and a variety of ISO quality standards are highly desired in most manufacturing companies.
Madeleine Felion: - While we recruit in a wide range of positions, we are seeing hourly pay rates increase as the demand for a shrinking labor pool grows. Some career fields, where there is a significant skills gap, such as CNC machinists, industrial maintenance technicians and quality technicians, have seen significant salary growth as demand for these skills increases and the candidate pool remains stagnant.
- Salaried positions are also growing as the demand increases for experience in niche skills sets.
State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo
School Of BusinessWebsite
Dr. Ian Alam: Companies hire graduates based on the perception of business growth or future growth in customer acquisitions. Currently the perception is that pandemic will die down in the near future. Yet the reality is somewhat different. The COVID cases are going up everywhere in the country and abroad. Therefore, the recent uptick we saw in hiring will fade away very soon. As a result, I expect an enduring negative effect on the graduate employments prospects. However, if our current vaccination program leads to herd immunity, i.e. at least 70% of the population is vaccinated by the end of summer, then the economy will open up further. This will encourage the employers to start the hiring again.
Dr. Ian Alam: Micro credentials are an important tool that all graduates must have in this tough employment market. In all areas of business and economics education, some type of micro credentials are available. Some are free of charge and some have small fees. For example, in the field of marketing, two organizations offer free credentials for social media marketing to the students enrolled in a college. These are Hootsuite and Hubspot, which offer micro credentials for social media marketing. For others who are not students, a fee applies. Besides, there are several organizations that are offering credentials after the completion of short online courses in a variety of fields. I believe students must look at these micro credentials right after the college to make themselves more marketable.
Dr. Ian Alam: Gaining as much experience as possible via internships and volunteer work combined with aforesaid microcredentials will be very helpful for the recent graduate to negotiate better package. I also recommend the graduates to accept any employment they can get rather wait for the perfect ones. The reason is that any work experience will be valuable later.
Rob Sentz: Ultimately the pandemic is a blip that is accelerating some changes that were already in the market. More people and companies are opting for remote work and tech skills remain vitally important. What I think people really need to understand is that what we saw in 2020 was an accelerate to a broad set of trends that were already in place, but likely not being noted amongst many people in the labor market:
- Yes, we have experienced the loss of millions of jobs, but we have also seen the labor force participation rate decline at an even faster rate. This means that there are fewer working age adults interested in work than we have ever seen
- As huge numbers of baby boomers retire, they are going to leave millions of open positions that will be hard-to-fill
- Many sectors today (logistics, healthcare, tech, core business functions (like sales, marketing, CS, finance, HR, and operations), education, skilled trades, and public safety are desperate for talent.
- The replacement rate for workers isn't as great as the need for labor
For more: www.economicmodeling.com
Rob Sentz: The key thing as people begin the search in the labor market is to not be so locked into a specific degree or certification. We try to (a) highlight those areas of work that need people, (b) show the key skills that are needed, and (c) allow people to line up to where their strengths, interests, and skills can really flourish.
All this is to say, that it is hard to pit degree against degree. Can you do well with an English degree? Well, yes. If you understand where to apply your interests, knowledge, and skills to help other people. Should everyone pursue an English degree? Well, no. Start with where you can solve problems and apply what you have learned / the skills you have gained to help other people. And think about how your knowledge and skills relate to key sectors of work that really have a lot of problems that need solving.
Finally, the ability to combine human (soft) skills with technical (hard) skills seems to be the key to thriving in a wicked labor market. People who do well have the ability to manage, communicate, lead, and do technical things like code, market, sell, and so on.
Rob Sentz: As demand increases and supply decreases, wages are going up. Weekly wages increased 7% last year and we are seeing the companies have raised their advertised wages (the amount they are willing to pay to get you in for an interview) by as much as 16%. This means that there is a lot of opportunity and companies are willing to pay to get the talent they need.
Texas A&M University
Department of MarketingWebsite
Janet Turner Parish: It will be some time before we know the enduring impact, but I do believe there will be one. Some students who are very self-directed will likely thrive in a company that continues to give them the flexibility to work wherever they are. However, many students will be craving structure and face-to-face time. Studying the generational cohorts fascinates me. Some of the early information about Gen Z indicated that they wanted to work in-office, that they wanted more separation between work and "life". It will be very interesting to see how/if this changes. This is surely to be one of the defining moments for Gen Z.
Janet Turner Parish: For students who have good listening skills and enjoy solving problems, professional selling is a great career path. Sales roles are critical for a company's success. Sales skills are industry independent and beneficial for all types of organizational roles, especially leadership. The earning potential is significant and there are multiple career paths from a start in sales (operations, HR, sales management, CEO, etc.).
Janet Turner Parish: Being coachable, adaptable, productive and committed to live long learning.
Students will need to be more open-minded to various career opportunities. They will need to be much more aware of their own strengths when they approach the job market. Aligning one's strengths to the roles that they seek will naturally lead to more satisfaction and productivity.