August 29, 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.
Ave Maria University
George Fox University
University of Sioux Falls
University of Dallas
Interdenominational Theological Center
Nazarene Theological Seminary
Christ College at Concordia University
Indiana Wesleyan University
Claremont School of Theology
Ave Maria University
Mark Heffley: Most people who graduate from an undergrad program like ours in theology teach middle or high school, work as youth ministers or DRE's at parishes, or go into unrelated fields such as business or pursue further degrees.
Those who graduate from related master's programs usually teach high school or work for a parish or diocese. A decent portion decide to go on for the doctorate.
So the relevant skills would mostly depend on what they decide to go into after completing their program. Relevant skills for these programs themselves would be much the same as any liberal arts field (e.g., reading, writing, etc.).
Phil Smith Ph.D.: The pandemic has accelerated the trend toward working at a distance. When it's over, many companies will not return to business as usual. Patterns of work will be permanently changed for those whose work can be performed online.
Phil Smith Ph.D.: Everyone needs a good I.T. department. Sadly, more and more I.T. effort must be devoted to protecting against hackers. Cities, counties, hospitals, factories, universities, and many other work places-virtually all organizations with more than a handful of employees-can be victims of phishing expeditions and viral hacks.
Phil Smith Ph.D.: Despite my answer to #2, it's important to work with people. Get your feet wet in some field not directly related to your major. Businesses need new employees who can think well, write well, speak well, and work cooperatively with others. Traditional liberal arts degrees continue to be relevant in the workplace because they prepare students with these skills.
Richard Park D.Phil: It's hard to predict job trends-this is especially true during a global crisis, such as the one we're facing now. If I were to take a stab it, I might point to three possibilities: technology, community, and faith. The Information Revolution had already created millions of new jobs within the tech industry. Since so much of our world is and may continue for sometime to be on lockdown, this trend seems likely only to increase. Companies which once thought it "impossible" to conduct business/meetings/etc. over video conferencing now find it not only possible, but most efficient. Secondly, community. The longing for belonging is an essential human condition. It will never go away.
Given what I mentioned above, we might temporarily have to find new ways to "do community" (perhaps using technology to an extent), since doing without community simply will not do. There may be an increased need for people (perhaps engineers, artists, entrepreneurs, sociologists) who create new ways of connecting. Lastly, as with most crises (whether national, global, or personal), people will likely turn their attention to ultimate meanings-which implies a search for or a deepening of faith. Dramatic change, suffering, or other uncontrollable factors will cause us to yearn to make sense of life: of suffering, of good and evil, and of life after death. So, there will be a need for guides-people who can walk, process, pray, and sit with those who are on this search for meaning and making sense of life.
Richard Park D.Phil: If what I suggest above is true, then the kinds of skills-including "soft skills"-that would stand out on resumes might include: creative and critical thinking, interpersonal communication, empathic reasoning, charitable dialogue, and anything related to emerging technologies. Certainly, at least four out of five of these skills are integral to the religion/theology major at a given university. Even more than this, what I see as one of the biggest benefits of majoring in religion/theology in college is how it provides a natural context in which one could think and grow more deeply into a virtuous human person. People will (always) yearn for community. People will (always) search for meaning. And such people will turn to those who have worked on becoming great souls.
Richard Park D.Phil: Some obvious places would include houses of worship (i.e., temples, churches, mosques). Some other natural places are NGOs and the work of mental healthcare professionals and social work. Some less obvious places include the world of writers, filmmakers, music, and the arts more generally. As people yearn for meaning, they will find it in the priest's homily and the pastor's office, but also in story, song, and other conveyors of beauty. The world will always hunger for more truth, goodness, and beauty.
Amy Davis Abdallah Ph.D.: This is unlikely. Most of our students either go to grad school or work in Christian ministry. Higher education will be offered as long as there are students. The pandemic may impact job opportunities for students with Masters or Doctorates, but the possibilities will likely remain the same for those with a BA. It is possible that there will be a greater need for workers in Christian service like the church, para-church ministry, education, and camp ministry. When people can be together again, they may make it more of a priority.
Amy Davis Abdallah Ph.D.: Wherever students go, they need more IT skills. In the church they need to know how to run a great livestream and to communicate well when we are not face to face. They need social media expertise with writing and speaking skills in all vocations. They need skills for online education as learners and as teachers.
Amy Davis Abdallah Ph.D.: I'm not sure I can answer this well since I do not generally review resumes. However, I would guess that IT skills are key. Rather than simply content knowledge, employers need well-rounded graduates that can communicate through a variety of platforms.
University of Sioux Falls
Brian Gregg Ph.D.: Theology majors have a variety of career paths open to them. While many work in the church in some capacity, others gravitate to the mission field, nonprofits with kingdom-focused goals, and parachurch organizations like camp ministries or campus ministries. Though there are implications for each of these, the lasting impact on church ministry might be the most obvious. The coronavirus seems to have accelerated a trend that was already on the rise in the local church. Increasingly, even those parishioners who consider themselves committed to the church are unlikely to be present at worship on a weekly basis. This impacts development of community, engagement with regular teaching, giving of offering, and the ability to adequately invest in a number of other Christian disciplines. The coronavirus forced many churches to alter the way that they engage the congregation and the community, severely hampering the investment in fellowship and in many cases requiring worship to move online. These changes have served to reinforce the sense that church is a commodity (like so much of what we experience online) meant to be consumed at our discretion. Graduates entering into ministry will need to reckon with these trends.
Brian Gregg Ph.D.: New graduates will need to be able to think critically and creatively. They will need to stay tethered to their reason for entering ministry, confident in the centrality of Jesus in an uncertain world. They will need to be able to build meaningful, healthy relationships and navigate conflicting points of view in their congregation. Ultimately, their greatest assets will be tied to character. Do they operate with integrity? Are they faithful? Are they committed? Do they love well?
Brian Gregg Ph.D.: It is not uncommon in our day and age to dismiss the importance of theological education. This is a grave mistake. Obviously, fruitful ministry is not simply a matter of "knowing the right things." Nevertheless, the kind of theological formation that comes from education is essential in a good pastor and churches worth serving understand the payoff of this investment. In addition to this, potential employers are eager to see evidence of commitment to the church. How have you served? How have you been involved in the life of an actual congregation? What experiences led to your sense of calling?
Dr. Jodi Hunt Ph.D.: It is no surprise that the pandemic has yielded many challenges for our churches, congregations, dioceses, parishes and their leaders. Given the current trends, it does appear that many churches and other faith-based organizations will experience challenging times ahead, especially in relation to financial ones caused by a slow return to the pews.
Even so, there are many good things that we expect to happen in relation to the job market for those with degrees in religion/theology or those who pursue vocations. For one, with the growing need for pastoral care, especially for those who have been physically, spiritually, emotionally and/or menatlly displaced by the pandemic, there will be many career opportunities for lay ministers and ordained pastors to pursue as pastoral counselors and/or chaplains. Christians education, especially at classic based schools, is also seeing a renewal of interest. With many families disconnected from and/or concerned about public schooling, career opportunities for those interested in using their theology/religion degree for teaching in private or charter schools is on the rise.
Another area that is currently 'trending' as far as careers in ministry/religion is spiritual direction. In addition to pastoral care, many who have been gravely impacted by the pandemic as searching for spiritual directors to help them make sense of the world around them. All in all, there are lots of opportunities that still await those who have degrees in ministry/religion/theology or who are ordained ministers.
Dr. Jodi Hunt Ph.D.: For graduates who take a gap year, I highly recommend that they work in the private sector, in business and/or marketing. When working for the church or even in Christian-based schools, you will wear many hats. In addition to leading a flock or teaching theology, you can expect to be asked to fundraise, put together a major event, market programs, coordinate HR concerns-the list goes on and on. With this in mind, it is always good to have some form of business acumen that can help you make sound operational decisions for the managing of day to day operations.
Additionally, with the rise of reliance on social media, webpages, etc. to communicate what is happening in faith based organizations and churches, it is good to get some solid marketing experience as well. Go learn how to run ad campaigns, put together a social media site or effective webpage and even learn a thing or two about how to create an eye catching flyer. Knowing how to coordinate marketing and other media management will serve you fantastically as a ministerial leader.
Dr. Jodi Hunt Ph.D.: As a new graduate, the first thing that you should know is that you will fail, alot! There will be lots of times that you will find that you do not have an audience or that those who you think will show up to help, participate, etc. won't. And that is OK! Eventually, your work will come together and once you gain the trust of the faith community or organization that you are serving, you will be successful. With this in mind, be sure you define what it means to be successful and effective. Being effective in drawing people closer to their faith and or accompanything them while they are in the valleys does not always appear to be a success as far as you might not be making money for the organization or even working with more than a few people. That too is OK.
In terms of ministry and vocations, effectiveness is more important than portraying your program as a huge success through the lens of what the world deems successful. I also would add do not be afraid to do ministry in other places outside the church. There are lots of opportunities to work in chaplaincy, for non profits that serve the poor, etc. If you feel called to work outside the church in other areas of service, then go for it! Theology, religion degrees open a world of opportunities, so do not be afraid to go out into the world and serve in places that you did not expect to go.
Interdenominational Theological Center
Rev. Dr. Joseph Crawford Sr.: Yes. There are environmental social distancing challenges that minimize in-person peer support.
Rev. Dr. Joseph Crawford Sr.: Financial management, integrated technological savvy and interpersonal relationship skills are critical assessments needed to compete. These areas could complement the Prophetic leadership training gained from being saturated in the ITC community.
Rev. Dr. Joseph Crawford Sr.: Signs of stability (not too many short-term involvements) and versatility (signs of multiple/diverse) skills stand out on resumes.
Nazarene Theological Seminary
Church and Society Area
Josh Sweden Ph.D.: As a North American seminary, our students are preparing for religious leadership in contexts that were already experiencing disequilibrium before the pandemic. Church engagement, finances, and practices are shifting rapidly. Some of this is good and long overdue. Still, it does mean that seminary graduates preparing for ecclesial ministry will need to have greater imagination and increased patience as new paradigms emerge amidst the old. Covid-19 has only exacerbated many of these impending shifts.
Josh Sweden Ph.D.: Seminary graduates enter a variety of professions. Many become ordained clergy persons and lead congregations or serve in ecclesial-affiliated organizations. Increasingly seminaries like Nazarene Theological Seminary provide education for an array of professionals seeking greater theological and ministerial formation, for personal or existential reasons, sometimes to support their work in other professional fields. Regardless of professional aspiration or calling, seminary graduates will need to have the practical wisdom to engage complex and multi-faceted contexts. A deeper awareness and a broader understanding of the cultural, social, and religious identities that constitute one's community and its place in a larger social-historical matrix will be essential for the graduate if she is to support the flourishing of that community/place.
Josh Sweden Ph.D.: Ecclesially-affiliated institutions highly value hands-on experience as well as education. Ministerial leadership, no matter its form, is about working with people. Direct experience working with diverse groups of people and navigating varied desires and perceptions is a critical skill for any organization today. Ministerial leaders cannot assume the people they work with sharing the same political views or social expectations. Generally, the people are bound by a different, though sometimes ambiguous, set of convictions and commitments. Strong resumes highlight the candidate's capacity to function as a choreographer for the community that has been placed in their care.
Christ College at Concordia University
Center for Church Leadership
Jonathan Ruehs: Young adults who are looking to enter into a full-time career in ministry will need to be workers with a broad range of skills. They will have to be able to understand how to interpret religious content (ex: the Bible), how to best communicate (ex: teaching and preaching) that information into the cultural groups they are working with, be able to provide distinctive spiritual care to a whole host of hurting people who come through their doors, understand how to best reach out to the community that they are in, as well as gain skills on how to run a non-profit organization, which includes leadership development, conflict resolution, fund-raising, and the ability to read and balance budgets.
Jonathan Ruehs: Opportunities for ministry can be found all over the United States. Also, many religious institutions, like churches, have a hard time holding onto children and youth ministers. These positions tend to be the ones in high demand. These are also areas that need caring individuals who think long term.
Jonathan Ruehs: Given our current pandemic, we saw how churches across the nation quickly went online. Many churches had already been using this technology for worship, in particular, but many other churches had to quickly adapt to this new situation. We already see, as churches open up, that many people still want to stay at home and worship, whether that is due to lingering fear or comfortability with this new opportunity to watch church in their jammies. Yet, we have also seen that many people have "screen fatigue," especially if they have a job that requires them to sit in front of a computer for eight hours a day, and this means they desire to engage in face-to-face opportunities. What all this means is that hybridity is going to be the new ministry norm moving forward. While for some churches, this was their norm, I believe, for most churches, this will be their norm moving forward. I guess you could say that being tech-savvy is another important skill for future ministry leaders to have, or at least to have the smarts in knowing who in your religious organization has such skills and using them for the ministry.
Department of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation
John Collins Ph.D.: They should not be too narrowly specialized. They need to be able to teach a range of materials.
John Collins Ph.D.: Colleges and universities. The seminary market is declining. It is not easy.
John Collins Ph.D.: More and more. But students nowadays have no trouble with technology. The older professors are the ones with the problems.
Dr. Aaron Perry Ph.D.: Christians are not merely interested in finding work, but in doing good work. An early Christian pastor and leader named Augustine pointed out that the Christian book enters many everyday living areas. There are places to do *good* work across the country, especially with the knowledge of the Bible, even if we don't get paid.
Dr. Aaron Perry Ph.D.: Technology that used to be peripheral will become more common. When technology becomes standard, we expect specific skills to become common *and* the novelty of technology wears off. Technology will be used more and more, but it cannot be relied upon to do the excellent work of pastoral ministry or church leadership or biblical teaching.
Claremont School of Theology
Department of Theology
Dr. K. Samuel Lee Ph.D.: 1. Yes. How we go about doing academic and clinical training will have an enduring impact. Telehealth (and Zoom class) has gained popularity due to the pandemic. This will help counseling service be more widely available to persons in rural areas, persons without transportation, and persons in large metropolitan areas who have to drive long hours to receive counseling service. At the same time, persons who have no access to technology (elderly and other persons in our society) continue to be underserved.
2. Our students are now spread out during the pandemic season, across the USA and internationally, because they do not have to be physically on campus.
3. The pandemic has disclosed the socioeconomic disparity in more explicit ways, as indicated by the USA's ongoing protests. Our sociopolitical contexts cannot be ignored, even in the field of mental healthcare. Our faculty designated this academic year, during which time, we will understand what Black Lives Matter to use in our teaching and educational administration.
4. We are also rethinking what it means to provide care in a religious context. In a classic setting, religious rituals served a significant role, e.g., last rites or communion. With the pandemic, many pastors and theologians are rethinking these sacred rituals and alternative ways of implementing these rituals.
Dr. K. Samuel Lee Ph.D.: The need for spiritual care and mental health care has increased due to the pandemic-related stresses: increased child abuse, domestic violence, and divorce. For example, many people have increased pressure from financial stress, isolation, and more. During this pandemic, we hunger for physical contacts, shared intimacy, and participation in communal activities. Our spiritual needs are more keenly felt. The demand for worshipping communities and spiritual care would increase, once the pandemic subsides.
Pastoral ministry, hospital chaplaincy, and counseling service sites will be in demand.
Dr. K. Samuel Lee Ph.D.: Technology will be a crucial resource. I hope our imagination for the importance of technology in providing spiritual care and counseling expanded during pandemics. Telehealth (Zoom-like video-conferencing, online payment services, cloud-based client management systems), telemarketing, social networking ... all serve important roles, but will not be able to replace the in-person care and counseling entirely.
Simultaneously, there will be people who illegally and unethically take advantage of these mass tools.
Faculty and counselors are challenged to learn new technology.