October 16, 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.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
University of North Dakota
Nazareth College of Rochester
The University of Alabama
Indiana Wesleyan University - Marion Residential
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
National Association of Social Workers, New York State
UNLV School of Social Work
West Texas A & M University
Mississippi University for Women
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Pamela Teaster Ph.D.: Possibly. Surely there is an impact on the ability of some students to be hired post-graduation. Some students who had positions lined up in the early spring found themselves without a position due to companies/academia/government halting hiring and work. This circumstance has the unfortunate effect of delaying graduates' entry into the job market and of putting them in competition with students who will be entering the job market in 2020. Students who have interests in fields that have a direct, as well as the indirect relationship to healthcare and public health, could find that their skills are in high demand, now and post-COVID.
Pamela Teaster Ph.D.: One location in the US is likely as good as the other-as long as there are older adults in the population.
Pamela Teaster Ph.D.: This one can be huge, as telemedicine, tele-counseling, ordering goods and services, and educational opportunities online have increased vastly due to the pandemic. There will be opportunities for growth related to technology because we have direct evidence that some of the barriers to the expansion of technology were not really as difficult to surmount as we thought they were.
University of North Dakota
Department of Social Work
Isaac Karikari Ph.D.: -Community-involvement/community-based practice experience,
-Seeking consultation and supervision (Openness to feedback)
-Capacity for critical inquiry (and critical thinking),
-Commitment to life-long learning,
-Interpersonal communication (includes active listening)
Isaac Karikari Ph.D.: By default, social work practice is integrative. The levels of practice, broadly speaking, the micro-and macro-levels, intersect in ways that may not always be apparent. The capacity for critical and analytical thinking in identifying the nuances, seeing how these levels intersect, and understanding the implications for clients is essential for effective practice.
Relatedly, social work practice involves working with a diverse array of people across different systems and levels. A social worker needs to be able to navigate these systems. Systems thinking and the person-in-environment perspective are relevant.
Good interpersonal and communication skills are essential in helping one build and make the needed connections. These skills apply across the micro and macro levels.
The capacity to work collaboratively and with interdisciplinary teams is important. Other skills include genuinely demonstrating respect, empathy, reliability, integrity, and adaptability. Forbearance and emotional intelligence are often understated.
Social workers also need to have grit. Achieving and maintaining successful outcomes can be challenging.
Isaac Karikari Ph.D.: -Proficiency/competence in using technology.
-Task management and prioritization
-Writing and language skills
Isaac Karikari Ph.D.: -Versatility and the ability to adapt are important.
In this regard, there should be a commitment to lifelong learning and engaging opportunities for growth and development.
-Creativity and problem-solving
-Critical thinking/Analytical skills
There is the interplay and cumulative effect of skills, experience, and time. Those who refine their skills and acquire diverse experiences over time stand to earn more.
Department of Sociology
Matt Grace: This is a pessimistic take, but an unfortunate consequence of the pandemic is the prospect that young people entering the job market in late 2020 and 2021 will face an uphill battle to find full-time employment. Research conducted on people entering the labor force during economic recessions suggests that this cohort will likely experience more precarious employment and lower earnings than their peers for many years to come (see "Cashier or Consultant? Entry Labor Market Conditions, Field of Study, and Career Success"  by Altonji, Kahn, and Speer). When the economy does rebound, there's no guarantee that corporations and firms will say, "Hey, we skipped over these people," and go back to hire folks who graduated in 2020 and 2021.
Matt Grace: I have never been in a position to hire, but I do think there are some skills that all employers value. Foremost are oral and written communication skills. Regardless of the specifics of a job, chances are that you'll need to know how to effectively convey information, whether that's in the form of a presentation, a report, or even an email. Having worked in an office job prior to entering academia, I can't tell you how many of my co-workers were unable to craft a simple, coherent e-mail. This might seem trivial, but e-mail miscommunication can slow down a project or lead to internal tensions on a team. Second, while many higher education institutions are pushing students to learn to code, I think data literacy is just as important. The ability to distill trends and tell a story from data are vital skills for any company seeking to connect with the public.
Matt Grace: This question falls far beyond the scope of my knowledge. However, given the prevalence of remote work among white collar workers during the pandemic, I'd be curious to see whether geography will present the same constraints to employment that it has in the past. Some companies may decide that being physically co-present in an office is immaterial to the company's productivity, allowing workers to live and telecommute from wherever works best for them. Specific to sociology, many of our graduates enter the non-profit sector, become social workers, or go into teaching. These are all wonderful occupations, but I also believe that the skillset you acquire with a bachelor's degree in sociology lends itself to an even wider variety of jobs, whether it's in marketing and advertising, business, Ed Tech, or working for a government agency.
Department of Social Work
Dr. April Jones: In society, we have always known the individuals need hard and soft skills to function well in the workplace. It's often known as employability skills. Over time, emotional intelligence was another skill noted to have to work in the workplace. For social worker graduates, at entry-level to the workforce, in the coming years there may be new skillsets needed beyond the traditional knowledge of social work competencies and code of ethics, analytic and critical thinking skills, interpersonal skills, communication and problem-solving skills, team/group work, how to apply theory to methods of practice, etc. if COVID 19 pandemic sets a new norm or norm that will continue post an epidemic.
Technology use and application will bring a need for more tech-savvy graduates to interact with humans via videoconference, Bot chats, AR/VR therapy applications, communicating with symbols (e.g., memes, GIFs, emojis), Artificial Intelligence for best practices of assessment, interventions, or diagnosis, and much more. I can see more training on cultural awareness and various technology applications and etiquette.
This opens an excellent time for research and development of technology use in the social work as well. Skills that will be important are time management, self-management, and multi-tasking in a digital world. Information overload and faster communication processing must be balanced for graduates and their future clients. It appears an integration of current and new skills will need to be apart of a young graduate's toolbox to meet the workforce demands and to have a competitive advantage.
Dr. April Jones: This is a great question; it's hard to tell, the virus is so new and discovered each day by scientists and social science practitioners. We know currently, that the virus has after-effects to the human body that may affect the mental, physical, and emotional response of individuals who may need social services from social work practitioners. Suppose mental health, suicide, and health conditions are on the rise now. In that case, it can take some time to recover, and that's where an enduring impact of the coronavirus has an effect on graduates' knowledge base for client services in an array of settings.
Leanne Charlesworth Ph.D.: Be open to all opportunities across diverse settings and fields of practice. Our graduates often discover a passion for an area of social work practice they did not initially realize they would love. You might be surprised by what you learn about yourself (and the social work profession) throughout your career with an open mind.
Leanne Charlesworth Ph.D.: It appears that Zoom and telehealth will become more dominant in professional settings and practice in the next few years. Also, virtually all documentation and recording systems have shifted or are shifting to increasingly sophisticated electronic platforms.
Leanne Charlesworth Ph.D.: Social work is growing faster than the average occupation in our nation. National data suggest the median salary is 50,000. This is reasonable for a licensed MSW-level social worker to expect; salary prospects over time are excellent for social workers that focus on gradually increasing their employment responsibilities and obtaining advanced licensure or other certifications.
The University of Alabama
School of Social Work
Javonda Williams Ph.D.: Experience in working with vulnerable communities, whether it is paid or volunteer.
Javonda Williams Ph.D.: I believe technology will be used to provide greater access to services. Technology can address many barriers to service needs of vulnerable populations.
Javonda Williams Ph.D.: I think there will be enduring issues with the health disparities and poverty created by the pandemic.
Dr. Katti Sneed Ph.D.: Because social work education provides a set of hands-on skills that allow students to specialize upon graduation, students who have gained various experiences with multiple populations are at an advantage in gaining employment. Diversifying a resume demonstrates that a graduate desires to step out of their comfort zone in working with various people groups.
Dr. Katti Sneed Ph.D.: Technology is here to stay, and social workers' adaptability will be critical in growing along with technology. We already see most traditional paperwork (intakes, assessments, case notes, etc.) being collected and stored electronically. The days of paper files are gone. Also, client sessions are being conducted via a virtual platform. With this increased use of technology, additional ethical concerns arise. Confidentiality could be more difficult to protect due to the increased likelihood of technology being compromised.
Dr. Katti Sneed Ph.D.: Students will never forget their time during COVID. They are trying to learn from field supervisors who are adapting to the ever-changing environment due to society's uncertainty. In many ways, students and field instructors are learning together on how to adapt. The pandemic has caused an increase in anxiety, depression, and other societal problems, which inadvertently will increase social workers' need. Our graduates are walking into a world that certainly needs them. Therefore, the job market is up-and-coming.
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
School of Social Work
Jacqueline Burse Ph.D.: Because of the impact of COVID-19, racial, political, and economic issues, it will be critical for master's level social work graduates to hone in on their advanced clinical skills (assessment, evaluation, counseling/therapy) in efforts to address mental health and wellness.
Jacqueline Burse Ph.D.: Social work is a helping profession; therefore, there will always be jobs for us, throughout the U.S and abroad.
Jacqueline Burse Ph.D.: Technology will continue to become more and more innovative as we extend services via telehealth for counseling/therapy. Also, the use of mobile counseling and computer apps, etc. to assist those who are not able to meet in person.
National Association of Social Workers, New York State
Samantha Fletcher Ph.D.: The core skills of social work do not change over time. These skills include empathy, active listening, critical thinking, assessment, intervention, evaluation, advocacy, policy analysis, and adaptability. Social workers also need to evaluate the organizations they work in to assess for oppressive practices and policies. One of the profession's core values is social justice, which directs social workers to "pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers' social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice" (National Association of Social Workers, 2017). As a profession, social workers aim to dismantle racist, sexist, heterosexist, xenophobic, ableist, classist, and religiously biased systems and structures.
Samantha Fletcher Ph.D.: Employment in the social work profession is increasing across the United States (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018). Social work education focuses on societal problems and strengths at every level, including individual, small groups, family systems, communities, and globally. This broad lens education positions social workers to work in almost every area of society. Social workers provide services in mental health facilities, hospitals, schools, political offices, nursing homes, libraries, jails, prisons, courts, think tanks, non-profit organizations, state and federal offices, and universities. In these positions, social workers work with people throughout the life cycle.
Samantha Fletcher Ph.D.: Social workers need to be technologically savvy to meet clients and communities' demands facing a myriad of challenges. COVID-19 changed the way many social workers interact with clients and organizations. Social work had to move quickly to online platforms to ensure continuity of services while many communities were adhering to lockdown orders. The likelihood of these communication methods becoming common practice is tied to the length of time citizens observe social distancing measures. Many states and the federal government are already drafting legislation to implement telehealth services into insurance regulations. Macro social workers also need to utilize various technology platforms, including social media, legislative software, research analysis software, training platforms, and multiple communication tools. This technology is necessary to implement meaningful change in the many systems impacted by social workers.
Marde Closson: We envision technology positively impacting the field. As we were thrust into more of an online world in March, we have learned that services can still be effectively provided to clients. At some of our integrated practicum sites(which combine primary health care and behavioral health services), platforms such as Telehealth have been used even more so as the way to deliver health care services. We are sure that there will be other platforms available within the next five years, which will probably serve as cutting edge in the care of patients and clients. We might even see agencies expand their services because they can reach more people.We envision technology positively impacting the field. As we were thrust into more of an online world in March, we have learned that services can still be effectively provided to clients. At some of our integrated practicum sites (which combine primary health care and behavioral health services), platforms such as Telehealth have been used even more as the way to deliver health care services. We are sure that there will be other platforms available within the next five years, which will probably serve as cutting edge in the care of patients and clients. We might even see agencies expand their services because they can reach more people.
Justin Thompson: We are enduring, at least for the near future. The market was already competitive, and the pandemic only added to it by decreasing budgets. Several of the social agencies that we work closely with have enacted hiring freezes during this time. This could have potential consequences for years to come as non-profits work to catch up on fundraising.
Justin Thompson: I am not really sure if I can answer this question with expertise. It is all relative, especially for non-profit organizations. Some may not have experienced the pandemic in the same way.
Justin Thompson: Technology has been knocking at the door for several years now, and the pandemic has been the first thing that has forced us to look at delivering services while socially distanced. It is positive for rural areas that we have been able to use virtual meeting spaces to create programs to reach clients. I believe that our comfort level with technology has grown and will allow us to continue to explore the potential of telehealth and telemedicine. The truth is now most people have access, or know where to go to have access, to this technology, and it actually saves money because employees do not have to travel to remote locations to provide the service
Dr. Dorothy Berglund Ph.D.: In Family Science, our graduates earn a degree in family science and have completed the coursework needed to become provisional Certified Family Life Educators upon graduation; we are the ultimate human services generalists. Based on my interactions with our interns (our students are required to complete a 280-hour field placement prior to graduation) and recent grads, it seems that much of their work is remote, but also essential.
Our recent grads work at children's protection services, child advocacy centers, hospitals (as social workers), behavioral health (social work), intervention court (case management), among others. They go into work when needed, but much of their work is remote. I have the impression that, for many sectors, remote work is here to stay; preliminary research in my broader field (on time management) indicates that people who work remotely are more productive.
Dr. Dorothy Berglund Ph.D.: In terms of the job market--I do admit my bias and also realize there might be some confirmation bias here--I do see that people in the human services are everywhere during the pandemic. I have seen people in our broader field (human services) helping to de-densify crowded housing, working with the homeless, working in care homes, helping with the response to emergencies (e.g., working to put individuals and families in emergency shelters in hotels during the pandemic for hurricane Laura). Wherever there is a need, we will need human services. There will be growth, given our aging population, in terms of services for seniors.
Dr. Dorothy Berglund Ph.D.: As I mentioned, I think remote work might be sticking around, but, in terms of specifics, I do see more use of technology in our work (e.g., tweeting new parents with info on typical development; creating FB groups for families of cancer survivors).
Lisa Farley: I think there will be an "enduring impact" on everyone... yes, it will impact graduates, mostly due to work and jobs. Shoot - I think some students have veered toward healthcare and health education because of the pandemic. Some of the impacts will be positive - I think there will be a lot of jobs available in healthcare (nurses, doctors, med-techs, physical therapists, occupational therapists, etc.) because of the high need and high rate of burnout in those positions, especially with COVID.
On the flip side, I think those who are interested in teaching will find that the landscape is shifting greatly, and those who can adapt will be the ones to find the jobs quickest. While hospitals have seen a great reduction in elective surgeries, due to COVID, there are still acute patients both WITH COVID and WITHOUT COVID, and the need is there for folks at all levels. I also think we will see some new jobs come up due to this - who knew that "managing a pandemic" would be a job? I'm not sure I can even imagine all the jobs that have popped up in places due to COVID.
Lisa Farley: I think this type of field is wide open across the country. If people are interested in travel, I think the field of Healthcare and Health Education is open around the world. Highly skilled applicants will be sought-after everywhere. Those who are successful as college students, and especially those who complete an internship, demonstrate that they can juggle their responsibilities successfully - those are the people who will be hired quickly.
I can't imagine a place in the country that wouldn't want them. Certainly, the larger cities with more healthcare and health education opportunities will be the largest draw, but even our smaller communities need qualified people. That is until technology surpasses the small towns and we start shifting our healthcare to the larger conglomerations in larger cities.
Lisa Farley: That's the trillion-dollar question, isn't it?
Telehealth became much more commonly accepted during this pandemic. I believe that will continue to impact the field of healthcare. At some point, perhaps we will all have pulse-ox, blood-pressure cuffs, thermometers, or other things connected where we can "meet" with a practitioner from a distance. It removes the personal touch, but also removes the risk of infection, provides a better range of practitioners, and perhaps gives opportunities to those in small towns where there wasn't that opportunity in the past. It might be a good/bad situation.
As for the rest of technology, I'm not one to envision futuristic gizmos - so I can't imagine how much more complex technology will impact us. What I do know is that those who are educated should be taught not only how to handle the here and now, and the content we do know, but how to learn, so that as new things that we don't now know come, they are able to adapt. Some things we teach transfer to the practice, no matter what technology is - ethics, ways to educate people, how your philosophy impacts your profession, etc. Those things will not be changed due to the ever-changing landscape of technology.
Guy Trainin: It is very likely that we will experience increased demand for teachers. If the pandemic continues beyond this school year, we can expect more early retirement/on-time retirement than in previous years (we actually see evidence right now). That will create demand for teachers everywhere.
Guy Trainin: Teaching is everywhere, and the second most common profession in us; teachers are needed everywhere, and there has been a decline in the number of candidates going into teaching nationwide.
Guy Trainin: Technology in learning has been with us for a long time. The big difference is mobility, especially with the advent of 5G. This means that students can use technology to learn anything, and anywhere. It also means that students can be creators, going beyond information and media consumption that was the hallmark of 20th-century education. The technology used well can provide more access, more equity, more opportunity - but only if we choose the right approach, and break the chains of the 20th century industrial approach to education.