January 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.
University of Washington
Portland State University
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
University of New Hampshire
Texas A&M University - Kingsville
Indiana University Bloomington
Kennesaw State University
Idaho State University
Pennsylvania State University - Great Valley
Les Atlas: Most certainly an impact, a very strong impact. The best lesson for us is from the 1919 Spanish Flu pandemic. That strain of flu still circulates as a seasonal virus. Over 100 years laters, it is now considered a Phase 6 pandemic by the World Health Organization. While it is reduced due to current social distancing and mask wearing, the 1919 Spanish Flu virus still causes community-level outbreaks in multiple parts of the globe. Societal changes from this event of over 100 years ago are still with us.
In fact, they changed society. As is well-documented, after a high level of immunity was reached in the 1920's, the resulting labor shortage enabled workers to demand better living and working conditions, as well as better wages and public health care. As just one example of the societal changes due to the 1919 pandemic, the drop in the male labor force empowered male workers, and also changed the gender composition.
The aftermath of the 1919 pandemic was the start of women joining the labour force. In the United States, the proportion of women in the labour force rose from 18 per cent in 1900 to almost 21 per cent in 1920. In that same year, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment of the Constitution, the Congress of the United States guaranteed all American women the right to vote.
The current COVID-19 pandemic will certainly change the way we live, be it our mobility or the kinds of career options people have. After our current year-long experience in remote learning and work, will we go back to the inefficiencies of going to our office every work day? Or will remote work be acceptable, where one's residence will not be dependent upon the locations of employment. Will we avoid future hotspots of infection, choosing to instead reside and travel in areas where infection is decreasing? Will we prefer to travel on aircraft which are certified to be virus-free and frequent restaurants which are documented to be safer? Future marketing will likely make a sharp turn in this direction.
Les Atlas: With an expected increase in mobility, companies will have a larger pool of employees to search over and interview. Potentially orders of magnitude more. Searches for employees need not be regional. Thus, if a specific specialization is needed, the pool of applicants, which will likely come from a search over a large region, state-wide or larger, or even international.
Thus specializations will become more important, both in terms of depth and fit to the needs of an employer. Advanced graduate degrees will become more necessary. It seems very likely that filed which help understand data for epidemiology and disease forecasting and geographical hotspots will continue to be especially pertinent.
Les Atlas: The most obvious experience, in terms of being timely, is work with the science and data interpretation from the current pandemic. Epidemiology and statistics, computer science, and data science for data from the COVID-19 epidemic and similar public health data will remain on the forefront. In the many other areas of technology, having up to date skills, with advanced degrees, combined with the ability to work anywhere in the world, not by traveling, but instead remotely, will likely fit most future positions.
Engineering & Systems Department
Maryam Farahani: In my opinion, technology will play a much bigger role in our day-to-day life compared to the pre-pandemic world. Artificial intelligence and robotics will have a boost in employment numbers. Companies like Amazon, Walmart, Targets and etc, will need more IT and technology specialists to meet their customer's need for online shopping and supplying/delivering products to their customers. Jobs like programmers, data analysts, and technology support positions will have a rise in response to the change in the market due to pandemic.
For so many of the jobs, the need for a physical office is under question now, many employees are working from home and managing/coordinating their projects virtually. This will change the job market forever and job seekers need to learn new skills to adjust to this change.
Right now, healthcare-related job opportunities are growing in response to the rising need. In addition to doctors and nurses, there will be needs for management roles, accountants, technology supports, and lab technicians in health care industry.
Maryam Farahani: The best approach is researching skills and technologies required in their field of education or their field of work. Specially if there are simulation software/skills presented in their schools (related to their field of work/study), they should not miss the opportunity to learn them. These type of trainings are much less expensive in school and help them to standout in the pool of candidates in current competitive job market. Plus the hiring companies will save time/money for training the trained candidates, and it gives the trained candidates higher chance of employment.
Maryam Farahani: Thinking about the fields they want to experience or try. And to be intentional about their job search. The best advice is learning as much as they can about what company offers. Visualizing themselves in the next 5 years as a starting point. Do they want to travel a lot, or be in management positions? Do they want to be subject matter expert, or a hands-on engineer or technologist? Their goal may change as they progress in their career but having one makes a big difference in their career choices and keeping them on track.
Dr. Wayne Wakeland Ph.D.: Obviously, there is and will continue to be increased receptivity to (and necessity of) working remotely. This is likely to benefit some job seekers. On the other hand, the weakened economy, which may take years to recover, means that less jobs are/will be available, and, therefore, the competition for attractive jobs will be intense.
Dr. Wayne Wakeland Ph.D.: For analyst positions, I think that employers want to hire people with strong data analysis skills, which, of course, includes statistics, but also big data, machine learning (algorithms), computer-based modeling, and programming. And, in addition to these apparently rather specialized skills, there is growing recognition that a talent for thinking, communicating, and problem-solving in a very general sense, and being able to cope with/address complexity, is also quite important.
Dr. Wayne Wakeland Ph.D.: Develop a thoughtful combination of technical skills/expertise and qualitative resources/assets/prowess. Purely technical savvy can go a long way, but it is not enough. Employers are eager to hire well-rounded, easy to work with employees and leaders who can go deeper technically as required.
Dr. T.S. Kalkur: Yes, students complained that, while they are earning an online degree, they aren't learning as much.
Dr. T.S. Kalkur: They should be have the fundamentals down: good computer skills, knowledge of software tools used in design, good communication skills. They should also have a team spirit and internship experience before graduation.
Dr. T.S. Kalkur: Internship experience and tools used in design.
University of New Hampshire
Physics and Astronomy Department and Space Science Center
Marc Lessard: I think there might be a lag in some fields, but the need for good engineers in today's world will remain strong. Certainly, I would expect no long-term concerns. The world will always need new technology!
This is especially true for engineering-physics graduates, who are often trained to provide more of a "systems" perspective in their problem-solving strategies. Being able to see the "big picture", to understand what challenges need to be addressed and how to solve them, is a fundamentally important skill.
Marc Lessard: This is a very good and important question. Graduates who can address complex problems in creative ways will be the most successful. This might sound obvious, but there seems to be a trend developing where younger engineers tend to want to follow written procedures or instructions for solving problems.
What is more valuable, of course, is being able to use a broad-based background to provide new and creative solutions, or at least to suggest new ideas and engage in discussions to further develop those ideas. The cliche of "thinking outside the box" will always be important.
Marc Lessard: Students who have been significantly involved in research projects have a distinct advantage over those who haven't. Those who began such work (which is typically paid) as sophomores or juniors often will have played a significant role in these real-world research efforts, which can be very different than what might be tackled as part of a capstone project.
Written and oral presentation skills are also essential!
Texas A&M University - Kingsville
Austin McCoy: -Adapting to the virtual setting
Remote work is becoming more of an option for employees.
-Internship/co-op experience -Research experience
-Good leadership skills and involvement on campus and in the community and activities where the individual works as part of a team.
-Well written resume can tell a lot about the technical writing skill; a resume needs to be clean and comfortable to read; recruiters can find what they are looking for easily.
-Less is sometimes more because students sometimes will put more information on a resume than is pertinent to the position applying for.
Austin McCoy: -I think that if enough effort is put into looking for a job, there is an ability to find a job in just about any location
-The ABC's of job searching: Any job, Better job, Career job
Laura A. Meyer M. Ed.: This is a tough one, as nothing has been consistent since the pandemic. At the start, for students I advise in the Information Systems program, those in data roles lost their opportunities, where those with offers in software were able to maintain their opportunities. As we moved into summer and began looking to the fall co-op cycle, hiring was very slow all the way around as companies were navigating remote work and how to fit a co-op into a fully remote work role. Now, as we are moving into the Spring cycle, I see much more hiring in all roles with all of my students on co-op working remotely or starting to work remotely, then hopefully moving back into a physical work location. The one consistent piece since the pandemic has been remote work.
Laura A. Meyer M. Ed.: Students should really be working on honing the skills in their areas of focus and interest. With that said, they should also work toward becoming more well-rounded in all areas. A few of my students have realized through job postings, they have found that although they may want to work in data, knowing the basics of programming will be useful as well.
Laura A. Meyer M. Ed.: I tell my students often do not give up! Resilience is so important right now and with that comes being mindful about how they are applying to positions and to what positions they are applying. Really crafting their resumes and cover letters for each position they are applying is very important. Also, stay sharp - keep honing your skills and be consistent about doing so.
Indiana University Bloomington
Department of Intelligent Systems Engineering
Dr. Ariful Azad Ph.D.: The pandemic taught us that many jobs do not require physical office spaces. Hence, we may see more jobs permanently relying on virtual communications. We have already seen this trend in the retail industry, where Amazon forced many retail stores to shut down. This trend is expected to be accelerated in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Dr. Ariful Azad Ph.D.: I recommend enhancing skills in data analytics, if a graduate lacks such skills. Revitalizing business practices by analyzing user or inventory data is an integral part of almost all business applications. Hence, skills in data analytics will give a graduate an edge in the changing job market. Data analytics comes in various flavors: from gathering simple statistics to advanced machine learning. Hence, a graduate can always improve their skill from freely available online lectures, online classes such as Coursera, or on-ramp classes offered by many universities.
Dr. Ariful Azad Ph.D.: Look for a job that you would enjoy doing, even if it takes some time to find such a position. Internships are great to explore various options.
Adeel Khalid Ph.D.: It is the age of diversity. A graduate can stand out when their resume shows a broad portfolio of experiences. In addition to a solid academic record, students who demonstrate that they can take on challenging tasks and work beyond a degree's basic requirements are more likely to be successful. I advise students to get involved in various activities, including undergraduate research projects, student design competitions, student organizations, internships, co-ops, etc. All of these should be highlighted on the resume. When a recruiter sees an overview of a student that shows relevant work experience in the form of work-study, internships, or co-op or research, their resume automatically comes to the top of the pile.
Adeel Khalid Ph.D.: Technology will continue to become more prevalent in the workspace. For students to be successful, they will need to keep up with the rapidly changing technology, and I do not see the rate of this change slowing down anytime soon. More and more systems are becoming interdisciplinary. This is where systems engineering plays a key role. Systems engineers can bridge the gap between other engineers by establishing and communicating the requirements at the system level. They also play a crucial role in the verification and validation of complex systems. With the advent of technology in the coming years, this role will become even more paramount.
Adeel Khalid Ph.D.: It would be unreasonable to believe that there will be no enduring impact of coronavirus. It has changed the way engineers work. Dependence on technology has increased multifold during the pandemic. When a cure is finally in place, this dependence on technology is unlikely to slow down. This translates to the ability to perform engineering tasks virtually. So graduates need to be well versed in technology to be able to stay engaged and productive. Graduates will also need to adapt to the changing environment where they can meet the needs of the customers that will be more and more dependent on technology and their ability to conduct business virtually.
Idaho State University
College of Technology
Vince Bowen: How to learn. How to problem-solve. Emotional Intelligence to work in teams and get along with coworkers/customers. Then they need the tech skills.
Vince Bowen: Any large city will have several openings. Beyond that, these people can work anywhere in the world.
Vince Bowen: AI and IoT are the newest technologies in the area and will have an enormous impact on training programs.
Nil Ergin Ph.D.: Knowledge of analytical skills, methods, and tools for analysis, design, and management of complex systems and experience working with interdisciplinary teams are essential for systems engineering professionals. Experience in applying systems thinking and design thinking approaches to understanding organization, technical, and non-technical factors that influence the design and performance of complex systems stands out on resumes.
Nil Ergin Ph.D.: Advances in sensors, networking, communication, and computing are shaping the systems and services that are designed and deployed. Systems are becoming increasingly complex and interconnected; thus, more challenging to manage. Systems engineering discipline is becoming an essential element of managing and designing these systems. The field is evolving to address the challenges emerging from these advances in technology, including but not limited to, methods and tools to improve system resiliency, flexibility, agility, security, privacy, along with new ways to manage, design, and evaluate complexity.
Nil Ergin Ph.D.: The pandemic disrupts all systems. With disruptions, new forms of services, delivery formats, and jobs will emerge. One overall result of the epidemic is that tech companies consider allowing employees to work remotely, beyond the end of the pandemic. Emerging work from the home norm will enable companies to hire a diverse and distributed workforce and compete for technical talent nationwide. This will also create a demand for IT capabilities and create a network of shared workspaces. Graduates need to diversify their skill sets to adapt and be agile to new forms of change.