November 25, 2020
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.
Ira Wiesenfeld: The biggest trend is already underway, driven by the continuing shortage of competent and experienced workers. The pandemic has done little to ease this shortage. In the electronics and technology fields, the lack of high schools, colleges, and trade schools turning out students with the necessary skills to perform at a very high level once they hit the job market remains the biggest problem for many employers. To meet this need, we will have to learn how to supply workers who are very well trained, efficiently and inexpensively, for very narrowly defined jobs.
Trade schools, technical colleges, and certification agencies are good at this. The best certification agencies offer granular certifications that precisely target individual specialties. In fact, a Presidential order signed at the end of June 2020, directs the federal government to favor applicants with certifications over those with degrees. In short, the trend is to shorten the time to employment by simplifying and narrowing the focus of training. Employers are already moving in the direction of hiring narrowly but well-trained applicants.
Of course, it is desirable for working technicians to acquire a broader range of knowledge. This leads to a second trend, already underway, which has begun to reshape training. It is becoming normal for a student to train narrowly, get the first job, and then progress from there, via online instruction, earning certifications and diplomas while working. This includes instruction in related fields like technical writing, technology law, production management, etc. Employer needs, the student debt problem, and the easy availability of online instruction are driving this trend.
Ira Wiesenfeld: The areas of greatest growth will include communications, medical equipment, and lab testing, transportation, renewable energy, SCADA, consumer electronics, HVAC, automotive and truck repair, agriculture, security, and computer systems. In some of these areas, it would be fair to characterize the expected growth as "explosive."
In many of these specialties, there is an alarming disconnect between the current and projected need for trained workers and the dearth of training providers. Many schools are even cutting back or closing programs related to these fields. Other schools offer instruction that is decades out of date. There are metropolitan cities of a million or more with no available Electronics training whatever. Much of the advanced technology now available to us was developed in the USA, but we could find ourselves unable to make use of it due to a lack of trained technicians.
Ira Wiesenfeld: It is likely that employers will demand more graduates, but it is certain that employers will demand a different kind of graduate. A graduate with only academic knowledge requires extensive on-the-job practical training before they can be productive, and an employer simply can't afford to wait that long in today's economy. Someone with less theoretical knowledge but more hands-on training and experience can be a productive employee beginning the day they're hired. That is the person who is most in demand.
Trish Serratore: The biggest trends facing the automotive service repair market are the need to help car owners understand that they still need to service their vehicles, even if they are not driving them as much due to remote working situations.
Smaller shops will have difficulties staying in business due to shutdowns and prior technician furloughs. Finding good technicians in this pandemic is just as complicated as before. Keeping technicians trained and updated will also be a factor in the repair business as shops get used to virtual and distance learning.
New graduates entering the field will need to showcase their credentials (ASE Certifications) and be able to quantify their experience. We are still hearing about a technician shortage, but many shops are still wary of an inexperienced individual.
Trish Serratore: Vehicle manufacturers continue to add technology to their vehicles. Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS), collision avoidance technology, and telematics are just a few of these technologies. Infotainment will continue to be a prevalent factor as more folks want their vehicles to do what their phone does.
Trish Serratore: Hard to say. There is no shortage of folks who would like to work as technicians. As technology increases, the competencies required will change the job descriptions. We will always need technicians for oil changes, brake repairs, HVAC, and the like. However, we will also need, but not as many, technicians with highly developed computer and electronic skills.
American Welding SocietyWebsite
Monica Pfarr: Recent trends indicate that pipe welding skills or "pipe welders" are popular across several industries and employers. Over 30,000 job postings in the past 12 months for pipe welding skills were reported in July 2020 (Source BurningGlass 2020).
The top "hard skills" for welders in demand, and showcased within job postings across the nation, include: Gas Metal Arc Welding and Gas Tungsten Arc Welding. (Source July EMSI 2020)
Monica Pfarr: Since the skill of welding can be applied across many career pathways, generally employment opportunities exist in many parts of the country.
Which region or state accounts for the highest demand for welders and welding professionals. When viewing total job postings, the great lakes region (MI, OH, IL, IN, WI, MN) accounts for most demand with a combined total of over 22,000 postings in the past 12 months. (Source BurningGlass July 2020)
Monica Pfarr: With the projected welding professional shortage of 275k by 2023 - (EMSI July 2020) it's hard to observe negative impacts of technology, especially automation. Understandably, organizations may be entertaining or may be taking a serious look at the need to automate certain welding processes within their company due to the skill shortage.
It is rare that we see a welding robot replacing a human welder; they are most often complementing the production process, or are filling a need that the manufacturer is unable to fill due to the shortage of welders.
National Tile Contractors Association
Jim Olson: The Tile installation trade is a Craftsman trade, so artistic ability and the ability to work with your hands are a good starting point. Also, the ability to follow directions is a big plus.
Jim Olson: Skills in the tile installation industry come from working and learning from qualified installers. Try to get a job or apprenticeship with Tile Installation company, it will be hard work but great experience.
Jim Olson: As installers it is always hard to schedule jobs as they are ever-changing in this market. Also, bidding jobs is time consuming and detail oriented, so I believe software that can assist with scheduling and bidding will be a growing field in the future.
Steve Harris: Given connectivity's essential role in our daily lives, telecommunication networks must be extremely reliable, and installers are expected to operate at a higher level than ever before. Installers must be well-trained and have the proper certifications to safely work on telecom networks - to reduce the risk of human error and ensure issues are addressed as efficiently as possible.
Explore The Trades
Kate Cinnamo: For those looking to start their careers in the plumbing, heating and cooling (HVAC) or electrical industries, technical aptitude is just as important as the ability to work with customers. As the demand for skilled tradespeople continues to grow, many tradespeople will note that it's important to hire for character, train for skill. Meaning, technical training can be done with anyone and, if you have the right personality for working with clients and homeowners, you'll be a great fit for the trades.
Regarding education, a high school diploma or GED is required to begin an apprenticeship or training. With the three trades, courses in math (like algebra and geometry), science (specifically physics and chemistry) and drafting are important in providing a solid foundation for the knowledge you'll need as a tradesperson.
And, while it may seem out of place, courses in technology and communication are great for the industry, too! In all three trades, technology is changing all the time. Just think of all the ways to make a home "smart" these days! As noted above, communication is key to developing great soft skills and positive rapport with clients and/or homeowners.
Kate Cinnamo: Plumbing, HVAC and electrical are essential to every community in the United States, which means these opportunities exist anywhere. With so many tradespeople aging out of the workforce, it's vital to our quality of life that those jobs are replaced. Simply stated, these industries keep the country running. Along with the benefit of taking your technical skills anywhere in the country, the trades offer many opportunities for advancement and career stability!
Kate Cinnamo: With ever-changing technology, it's no secret that the plumbing, HVAC and electrical trades have also been impacted. Plumbers are well-trained to install devices that monitor water usage, HVAC technicians install equipment that makes it possible to control thermostats using Wi-Fi, and electricians are installing residential charging stations for electric cars! The list could go on and on. As more homeowners are utilizing technology to their home's advantage, this also creates a positive outcome for conservation and the environment. Technology has been, and will continue to be, an essential tool for all tradespeople.