February 7, 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.
The University of Texas at San Antonio
Derek Plantenga: Social workers are needed now more than ever. The pandemic has led to widespread isolation, increased pressure on mental and physical health across all age groups, rising poverty and many other challenges, with a disproportionate impact on communities of color and those who were already vulnerable prior to the pandemic. At the same time, many of the services dedicated to addressing these challenges have had to adjust to social distancing and virtual delivery. As specialists in the intersection between person and environment, social workers are well equipped for just this kind of adaptation. Telehealth and virtual services have limitations, but they can also increase access and efficiency. Service providers are likely to continue to build on the idea and look for social workers who are able to provide telehealth and virtual counseling or case management. Demand in general for mental health services-both in-patient and out-patient-is likely to increase due to the pressures of the pandemic. At the same time there is an increasing need to address basic needs such as housing, food insecurity and employment, and social workers are positioned to help address this need. A good specific example of this might be school systems. There will likely be more opportunities for social workers within schools in the coming months to support students and families as schools grapple with how to maximize educational progress for communities facing enormous challenges. And finally, there will likely be an increased need for social workers who can develop and propose effective policy solutions to these very same difficulties at local, state and federal levels.
Derek Plantenga: There is no standard national licensure for social workers, so it is important for social workers to learn and understand the license structure of the state in which they are living and working. In general, though, earning a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree and then obtaining licensure will open up the vast majority of social work positions. For those wanting to work in the most clinical settings, obtaining clinical licensure will be required. In Texas, for example, the LCSW is needed in order to begin private clinical practice, and it is preferred for many positions with an intense clinical focus. MSW graduates interesting in pursuing this path begin by obtaining licensure as an LMSW and then work toward their clinical licensure. Beyond the primary degree and licensure; however, social work students can position themselves for success in the job market by expanding their knowledge and experience in the specific area of social work that interests them. For example, if a student is passionate about working with homeless veterans, then they can greatly increase the probability of securing a job in this arena by completing a practicum and/or volunteer experience working with veterans, seek out additional certifications or trainings related to trauma-informed practice, and network through community task forces or associations related to homelessness or veterans. Whatever the field of interest, the best way to get there is to seek out training, connections and experience in that particular field.
Derek Plantenga: It is important for graduates to balance realism and intentionality when seeking a first job post-MSW. On the one hand, it is not likely that the first job out of school will be someone's dream job-those opportunities tend to come with experience. On the other hand, graduates are wise to consider their first job as a purposeful extension of their professional growth. Seek out a position that provides a genuine opportunity to serve others, aligns with your passion and allows you the opportunity to gain a new skill or additional experience that will move you a step closer toward your dream job. It doesn't have to be the perfect job. Use any position you obtain as a learning experience, and keep an open mind along the way. Sometimes goals can evolve. Pay attention to what excites you or fulfills you, and be open to exploring new directions for your career in social work. The prospects for social workers are strong!