September 26, 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 Maine
Texas Christian University
New York University
San Francisco State University
University of Iowa
Grand Valley State University
University of Maine
Deptartment of Communication Sciences and Disorders
Judith Stickles: We graduate students who apply for jobs as speech-language pathologists. All of our graduate students who finished in May 2021 (15) are employed. Since this is a profession that requires licensure and national certification, the following is important: necessary coursework to meet standards of practice, clinical experiences in a variety of settings (clinic, private practices, schools, preschools, hospitals, and other medical settings.) It is necessary to have experience with individuals across the lifespan and with cultural/linguistic differences. Interprofessional experience is also important.
Judith Stickles: Soft skills that are important - organization, ability to collaborate with others, compassion, flexibility, problem-solving.
Judith Stickles: Certainly a large fund of knowledge specific to the profession. Skills with technology are increasingly important, particularly with respect to telepractice.
Judith Stickles: A willingness to work hard, network, and take advantage of all opportunities presented.
Texas Christian University
Davies School of Communication Sciences & Disorders
Anthony DiLollo: This might depend on the specific job requirements, as speech pathologists work in various settings. Although the entry-level master's degree is designed to prepare clinicians to work across the scope of practice, if individuals desire to work in specific settings, it is advisable to gain as much experience and additional training/education as possible in the areas in which individuals desire that setting focuses. This might be through specific externship placements during their training, continuing education opportunities, or additional certification in a specific assessment or treatment approach.
Anthony DiLollo: The ability to think critically and problem-solve is widely viewed as essential for clinicians. The emergence of person-centered care as a preferred mode of service delivery also means that clinicians must be flexible and creative in their approaches to intervention and understand how their assessment and treatment activities fit within each patient's personal and social contexts. In addition, leadership skills and the ability to work effectively as part of an interprofessional team are critical for long-term success in a speech pathologist's career.
Anthony DiLollo: Technical competence in evidence-based assessment and treatment across the scope of practice is the baseline for all clinicians. The ability to not only plan and execute assessment and treatment but also to accurately document therapeutic activities is critical. In addition, clinicians need to effectively talk about what they do and why their services are needed and will be effective.
Anthony DiLollo: The skills that will help SLPs earn the most relate to leadership and working well as part of a team. These skills typically lead clinicians to move more quickly into senior clinical and leadership roles and even into administrative roles that typically involve higher pay levels.
Kelly Bridges Ph.D.: In the field of speech-language pathology, the traditional mode for working with clients and patients has been face-to-face, with in-person assessment and treatment. Prior to the pandemic, we saw a slow increase in telepractice, more so to provide services to people in rural areas and regions of the country where speech-language pathology services are not easily accessible. With the onset of the pandemic and the need for people to work from home, as well as the need for people in high-risk categories to shelter at home to avoid exposure, we saw a quick shift to relying more on telepractice than ever before. Telepractice has been incorporated into the clinical practices of traditional face-to-face settings including the school system, private practice, higher education clinics, and outpatient centers. I would anticipate that this flexibility (including options for both traditional in-person therapy as well as telehealth/telepractice) will continue even when the world fully reopens, as it provides greater access to services for people who may not have sought them for various reasons (e.g., restrictions in mobility, distance to providers, etc.).
In addition to the expansion of telepractice, I anticipate there will be a greater need for clinicians to serve people in inpatient medical, skilled nursing, and long-term care settings as a direct result of the pandemic. Already, speech-language pathologists are at the front line with caring for people with COVID-19 in the hospital setting. Sadly, there are more and more reports of lingering impacts of COVID-19 on the respiratory, cardiac, and neurological systems for people who have had severe and even mild COVID-19. The expertise and clinical practices of speech-language pathologists will be critical for people needing rehabilitation in the areas of speech, language, voice, and swallowing.
Kelly Bridges Ph.D.: Graduates from master's programs in speech-language pathology undergo extensive training in the discipline-specific skills needed to thrive in the clinical setting (performing oral-sensorimotor examinations, IPA transcription of speech, language sample analysis, using software to aid in voice analysis, performing bedside swallow evaluations, to name a few). However, one cannot understate the importance of the soft skills necessary to truly succeed as a future speech-language pathologist. If COVID-19 taught us anything, it was that we need to be flexible and adaptable in all that we do. Under non-pandemic circumstances, graduates should be prepared to go into a therapy session with a plan in mind, but equally prepared to throw that plan out the window and shift gears to best fit the client/patient's needs at that time.
It goes without saying that communication - interpersonal as well as written-are also critical in our field. Interpersonal communication skills will help build rapport not only with our clients and patients, but also with our colleagues. This leads to the obvious need for strong work ethic, positivity, and of course teamwork, as we are part of an interdisciplinary team in all settings.
Inherent to every good clinician is also having the ability to critically think in order to solve problems using content knowledge, theoretical foundations, as well as the knowledge about our patient/client and their specific needs. This last part brings us back to those interpersonal skills and the need to truly get to know our patients and clients. This involves learning who they are, their culture, their values, their goals-and making that central to the treatment plan. Finally, graduates should have the ability to self-reflect and always be open to growth as "lifelong learners."
Kelly Bridges Ph.D.: Over the last decade (and more), annual salaries have grown steadily, and I anticipate that this will continue, as speech-language pathologists are highly valued members of pediatric and adult care teams. Average annual salaries depend on many factors including the setting (school, hospital, skilled nursing, private practice, etc.), geographic region (state, metropolitan area, rural versus urban, etc.), and experience.
Laura Epstein Ph.D.: Before the pandemic, we had all the tools we needed to incorporate a virtual component to our clinical practice in speech-language pathology, but the pandemic has showed us that we can be highly effective using these tools. In fact, I think we will start seeing that this virtual component will become essential to how speech-language pathologists work with clients. Utilizing a virtual component in our clinical work allows us to meet our clients where they are, not only in terms of their communication needs, but also, in terms of their physical access to therapy, in terms of their mobility, their schedules, the availability of caregivers, and so much more. Speech-language pathologists can now empower their clients to be served along a physical-technical continuum that can be fine-tuned to meet their needs. This is so exciting.
There is another trend that reflects the impact of virtual tools on our practice as a field, and it is something I've been saying to our graduating class many times. The cohorts graduating during the pandemic, both the 2020 and the 2021 graduates, are the first to enter the field with virtual therapy skills firmly under their belt as a part of their clinical competencies. While our graduate students were receiving this incredible opportunity in their training over the past year and more, those professionals who have been practicing in the field for a long time have been feeling incredibly challenged. They know that the writing is on the wall as far as the impact of virtual skills on clinical practice. Long-timers in the field are often not ready to take on the challenge of a completely new skill set. Many job opportunities are opening up for our graduates as a consequence of practitioners moving on and retiring. It goes without saying that the new graduates taking their places will transform our field.
Laura Epstein Ph.D.: I would say three areas of skills stand out. First, I've already mentioned at length the impact of virtual skills on clinical practice, and the need for these skills is certainly not lost on employers. At the very least, the pandemic has exacerbated the chronic shortage of speech-language pathologists that can now only be addressed by speech-language pathologists with the clinical and technical skills to work seamlessly in both face-to-face and virtual realms.
Secondly, employers need the technical and clinical expertise to serve growing areas in the field in which there are fewer speech-language pathologists who have the specialized skills that are necessary. Areas of tremendous growth include children and adults with social communication challenges (often referred to as on the autism spectrum), children and adults with augmentative and alternative communication needs, and very young children with special communication needs of all kinds.
Lastly, employers are becoming acutely aware of the need to effectively serve clients from linguistically and culturally diverse communities. Clinicians who have been trained in cohorts that consist of fellow students from diverse backgrounds and languages, such as what we at San Francisco State University have built, are extremely efficacious. The more inclusive the services provided for the entire community translates to greater technological and clinical expertise, and more impactful and effective therapy.
Laura Epstein Ph.D.: Ever since I started working at a University, my students have been paid more than me, and that trend hasn't changed. Salaries have steadily increased over the years, which means that the skills and expertise that speech-language pathologist bring to an organization are being recognized and valued more and more.
Jennifer Fisher: The job market for speech-language pathologists continues to be strong and has seemingly not changed during the COVID pandemic. There is a noticeable increase in the caseloads of hospital-based speech-language pathologists as a result of COVID. Some patients recovering from COVID require rehabilitation of swallowing and voice function due to extended intubation. Also, patients with COVID may experience cognitive-communication deficits during their rehabilitation requiring the services of speech-language pathologists. Speech-language pathologists in the school setting are meeting the needs of their clients through the use of telehealth. While schools have had to move to virtual learning therapists, have moved to telehealth, in some cases, as the primary service delivery method. Despite the pandemic, the job market for speech-language pathologists continues to be strong and predicted to grow at a faster than average rate.
Jennifer Fisher: In the field of speech-language pathology, employers are seeking therapists who exhibit clinical knowledge and practicum experiences that are specific to the job they are applying for. Additional certifications and specialty training beyond standard graduate school make for a highly desired candidate. The pandemic has forced many practitioners to learn and utilize technology to provide teletherapy and it is anticipated this type of service delivery will continue once the pandemic is over.
Jennifer Fisher: The mean salary for speech-language pathologists has not changed much over the last few years but does vary from state to state and setting to setting.
Jenny DiVita M.A. CCC-SLP: Speaking from a perspective of service provision for clinical speech-language pathologists, teletherapy services may become more permanent modalities pending insurance regulations (i.e., if insurance companies decide to continue coverage of teletherapy services after the pandemic-this is unknown still). This would allow for service provision to a much wider population, specifically for individuals in more rural areas. If teletherapy services continue to be a viable service modality, employers may be looking for applicants with direct experience, or those who are willing to provide services remotely and learn how to use different teletherapy platforms.
Jenny DiVita M.A. CCC-SLP: In most clinical positions across the U.S, national certification from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association is required, as is state licensure. Further, passing the Praxis exam, completion of clinical clock hour requirements, and graduation from an accredited master's program are requirements in order to obtain licensure/certification in most states, and to be eligible for most clinical speech-language pathologist positions. If teletherapy services continue, previous experience in this modality may be highly valued. Other valuable experiences (whether through coursework or clinical experience) would include expertise in cultural/linguistic diversity in order to effectively serve a wider patient population.
Department of Communication Disorders
Ernay Adams: Thankfully, there is always a high demand for speech-language pathologists. Specifically, the pandemic has opened more doors for telehealth speech therapy. Becoming confident with providing speech therapy in virtual platforms has now become a huge resume booster.
Ernay Adams: Efficiency is key and is just as important as providing good therapy. An employer values someone who is punctual, flexible, and able to complete their documentation thoroughly and on-time.
Ernay Adams: Salaries have slightly increased for the most part since I began working 10 years ago. With regulation and governmental changes in the medical realm, I have experienced slight pay decreases in some jobs. However, salaries remain competitive.
Grand Valley State University
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
Denise Ludwig Ph.D.: Yes. As service delivery models shifted for both health care and education the need for students to develop telepractice skills increased significantly. Use of telepractice and tele-education appear to be here to stay as there are some inherent efficiencies in use of technology for service delivery. It is also critical to teach additional skill sets to graduate students that include technology, virtual interpersonal skills, and evaluation of appropriateness of client/patients/students for telepractice/tele-education.
Denise Ludwig Ph.D.: A good job would one in which there is a variety of clients/patients/students to provide evaluation and intervention services to. This allows for use and consolidation of newly acquired skills.
Denise Ludwig Ph.D.: Technical skills such as software programs for health data/information and education program data entry are important for employers and as previously indicated, telepractice/tele-education skills will become more important for the future. Meeting improvement goals for health care, in the form of the Quadruple Aim, and for education, ESSA, will continue to rely on increased efficiency, effective, and patient/client/student outcomes.