February 24, 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.
Counseling Education Department
Malia Miller: There is potential for an increase in openings given the challenges regarding mental health that have developed due to the pandemic. If the bill passes at the federal level, it is my understanding that there are funds designated to be used by school districts to make sure all schools are open for in-person learning. These additional funds may be used to subsidize the hiring of more school counselors to address these issues if states choose to do so. Right now, the challenge we are facing as a university that trains school counselors is the fact that interns are struggling to acquire internship supervisors since the work of all school personnel has been difficult for the past year. Understandably, school counselors do not wish to assume more responsibility as working with students remotely, on hybrid schedules, etc. is time-consuming. I don't think there will be an "enduring" impact on our profession as a result of the pandemic, but we have learned how to connect with students more efficiently in a virtual mode.
Malia Miller: A good school counseling job out of college is being hired in the setting the new counselor seeks. The role of the school counselor in elementary, middle, or high school settings can vary greatly in terms of job expectations, so finding a "good" job would be landing the job in the level of your choice. Some school counselors seek work in higher education as admission counselors, but most are training to work in a K-12 school. I would add that it is often ideal for new counselors to be hired into a building where they are not the only counselor. Learning from colleagues through working with a counseling team is less stressful and easier than being the only counselor in a school.
Malia Miller: Within the school setting, earning potential can be increased with years of experience and continuing education. Most counselors are paid a salary based on the teacher salary schedule that has been negotiated between the union and the school board of the district. In a larger district, there would be potential for better pay if there are district-level positions that involve management of the school counseling staff.
California State University San Marcos
Department of Social WorkWebsite
Madeline Lee Ph.D.: There are technical skills that may stand out to employers, but as social workers, I think those technical skills together with "soft skills," can make an applicant really stand out to employers; social workers can combine their research skills with evidence-informed care and organizational quality improvement efforts, while being able to lead, build relationships, and think critically. In the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, our graduates will need to be able to fluidly navigate between employing telehealth methods to performing their work safely in-person when engaging and helping clients. To be effective, social workers will also need to understand the reverberating effects of the deep-seated roots of racism in our country and be willing to honestly confront and address those issues in whatever role they assume. Social workers are needed now more than ever.
Madeline Lee Ph.D.: I think the coronavirus pandemic is having/will have an enduring impact on all of us. Social workers are essential workers, and our current students are already in the field, interning at over 125 organizations throughout our Southern California region. Our students and alum serve some of the most vulnerable, including children and families experiencing poverty, the child welfare system, those with mental health needs, veterans, and older adults. The coronavirus has exposed existing fault lines and meeting the challenge of working at the intersection of two pandemics-the coronavirus, which is new, and racism, which is not new-will have an enduring impact on our students and graduates as they strive towards social work's mission for social justice. When the pandemic is behind us, it is my sincere hope that we will not forget how truly essential essential workers are and remember that we are all undeniably, intricately interconnected with each other.
Madeline Lee Ph.D.: We do not have a bachelors program in social work at CSUSM; we only have a Master of Social Work (MSW) program, so a good job out of our program may be different from one straight out of college with an undergraduate degree. I think that a good first job out of an MSW program is one that would provide the new graduate with great supervision and rich experiences for continued learning within a healthy organization where this is a strong sense of shared mission. All of this would need to be a good fit with the graduate's skills, passions, and values.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of social workers is projected to grow 13% from 2019-2029, much faster than 3.7% average for all occupations (this could increase in light of the pandemic). One of the benefits of an MSW is the versatility of the degree; it equips graduates for a range of careers, from being a clinician to a community organizer in a variety of settings, including private non-profits, hospitals, schools, and public agencies. Our graduates' first job may be a part of the sound foundation that supports their long-term social work career.
Nicholls State University
Department of Psychology, Counseling, and Family StudiesWebsite
Dr. Chantrelle Varnado-Johnson: To begin with, there will be a lasting impact of the coronavirus on recent graduates. For instance, we are seeing the rising number of positive cases. As of February 11, 2021, there were approximately 361, 038 Louisiana coronavirus cases (Swenson, Just, Whitfield, 2021). In addition, 20.6% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2019 (51.5 million people). This represents 1 in 5 adults (NAMI, ). To further complicate matters, the coronavirus pandemic and constant civil unrest has contributed to a demand for professional counselors.
Dr. Chantrelle Varnado-Johnson: Due to our society becoming increasingly diverse and more distance learning becoming prevalent, there will become demand for social and cultural diversity training of counselors. In addition, the unemployment rate has been at an all time high. "The current unemployment rate, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week, is 6.3 percent, (Bayly, 2021)." Blacks, Latin X, and Asian Americans are experiencing a steep decline in employment compared to the vast majority of white Americans and non-Hispanic groups since the launch of the global pandemic (Gamelas, Davison, & Ing, 2021). Yet, these members of historically marginalized groups are often placed on the frontlines. Subsequently, new professionals have to recognize their role as a worker and how it impacts other roles. Thus, recent graduates will need to be culturally competent due to the ever-changing globalization of U.S. society.
Dr. Chantrelle Varnado-Johnson: In addition, recent graduates will need to be familiarized with using telehealth platforms due to more remote learning needs. Plus, recent graduates will need to familiarize themselves with their basic facilitative skills to establish rapport quickly to have brief sessions. Also, I would recommend students receive competency-based credentials and become licensed in at least one additional state. Lastly, I would recommend students familiarize themselves with crisis intervention and trauma counseling.
In sum, graduates have to be aware of how their roles may shift due to job displacement, furloughs, and restructuring. Due to new challenges presented in the COVID-19 pandemic, graduates have to be prepared to address the possibility of being faced with high caseloads, secondary traumatization, role conflict/ambiguity, and tension in the workplace. As a precautionary measure, neophytes should adopt a holistic self-care regimen and professional network to ameliorate the mental health condition.
Dr. James Dalton Ph.D.: The pandemic has forced a shift to technology-assisted interactions in a wide variety of areas including education. I do not expect education to remain as reliant upon technology-assisted interaction as it has been in the past year. Neither do I expect our nation to return to almost complete reliance upon face-to-face interactions. Instead, I believe we will see technology-assisted education and technology-assisted school counseling integrated into the services of the majority of K-12 schools. Therefore, I believe we will see an increase in distance interactions with students through school counseling. Large districts may long-term employ some school counselors from off-site, or may incorporate off-site counselors into the services they provide.
Additionally, the pandemic has not decreased the mental health and wellness needs of our students, but instead has further demonstrated the existence of these needs and the difficulty many schools and communities have in meeting the needs of our most vulnerable populations. I expect this to lead to an increase in services that are provided by or integrated into schools including mental health counseling and trauma-informed counseling and services.
For both reasons, I expect school counseling jobs to have a greater variety of opportunities in the years ahead.
Dr. James Dalton Ph.D.: Completing state licensure requirements is always the most important thing to increase job prospects for school counselors. Without a license as a school counselor, one cannot find employment. Beyond licensure, given the shifts experienced from the pandemic, today I would encourage school counselors who want to stand out to pursue training and/or certification in distance or technology-assisted counseling methods. These skills will be quite useful to school counselors and will help demonstrate the applicant is cognizant of the skills currently needed in our schools.
Dr. James Dalton Ph.D.: The best type of job for a new school counselor will fit the individual skills of that graduate. Each individual has to determine what age-level they are best suited to assist and what type of school and community environment in which they will best fit. Additionally, it is important for those early in their career to have more experienced colleagues from whom they can seek consultation and support to help them grow into fully-competent professional school counselors. Finally, it is important to have a position where the administration and faculty value both the administrative functions of the school counselor and also the counseling functions of the school counselor. Too many fail to value counseling enough that the school counselor is provided the resources necessary to devote significant time to the counseling function of their position.