April 1, 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.
Christopher Todd Belser Ph.D.: 100 percent, yes. The coronavirus pandemic has greatly impacted the training experiences that emerging graduates have received, especially those who have been working at practicum and internship sites in 2020 and 2021. Many students had to navigate school site closures and pivots to online learning both in their K-12 field site and their graduate coursework. On one hand, this has likely limited some of the experiences they were able to gain as a graduate student, and on the other hand, it forced them to become acquainted with new technologies and new real-world crises while working under a supportive network of university and site supervisors. In addition to the direct impacts on the graduates themselves, the coronavirus pandemic has also sparked conversations about what role school counselors will play in responding to student needs as we move toward a new normal. The events of 2020, including both the coronavirus pandemic and racial justice efforts, will likely be watershed moments for the current generations of K-12 students, and the impacts will be both immediate and long-term. School counselors will need to dive head first into helping K-12 students work through grief/loss, fears and anxieties, academic challenges, motivation loss, career and postsecondary concerns, and a myriad of other issues related to reintegrating into on-site school environments. And as K-12 employees whose identity bridges education and mental health, there will be a great need for school counselors to act as leaders, advocates, collaborators, and change agents in response efforts that are equitable and systems-oriented.
Christopher Todd Belser Ph.D.: I'm not sure there was a "typical day" before COVID-19 for school counselors and I don't think there will be after. Because the pandemic is ongoing, graduates going immediately into school settings may still need to be prepared for environments that are virtual at least to some degree. Even if schools are moving more toward on-site learning, some element of virtual learning will likely still be in place, and if there is an unfortunate need to return to virtual learning, school counselors will need to be prepared to organize their work in that way. More concretely, day-to-day tasks will involve checking-in with specific students, making referrals for long-term mental health care, going into classrooms to deliver counseling-related lessons, conducting small group interventions, meeting with parents and teachers, etc. And because of the magnitude of the COVID-19 impact, school counselors will need to avoid the trap of "random acts of guidance" and be prepared to gathering universal data on student needs and delivering multi-tiered services to students in response to these needs.
Christopher Todd Belser Ph.D.: In many states and districts, school counselor salaries are based on a set pay scale, so earning potential is more tied to getting a school counseling job and keeping that job. New graduates often face the dreaded critique of lacking work experience as compared to more seasoned job candidates. However, newer graduates are also more likely to have been trained to design and deliver multi-tiered interventions and more trained on how to utilize school data to drive school counseling programming. Job candidates looking to stand out will need to be able to concretely discuss how their training will help solve issues that the school is facing, which does involve doing a bit of research on the school to which one is applying. Additionally, graduates need to recognize the importance of ongoing professional development--trainings, workshops, and certifications that equip school counselors to address unique circumstances of the school can only increase a person's effectiveness and longevity as a school counselor. Although grants and other external funding typically don't increase salaries for school counselors, these funding opportunities can help purchase evidence-based programs, support interventions, and buy other necessary materials that can make a school counselor's work a little bit easier. Lastly, school counselors can consider pursuing a doctorate degree in a related field (e.g., counselor education and supervision, educational leadership) to enhance their skills and expertise, open doors for new work opportunities and promotions, and possibly move them up on a pay scale.
Concordia University Irvine
Michael Eschelbach Ph.D.: Any and every job that is either unaffected by a pandemic (essential workers) or jobs that flourish because of the pandemic; delivery people and methods, producers of packaging; disposable products, plexiglass production, and fabrication; whatever can provide people with as many choices as possible that can be delivered to their home.
Michael Eschelbach Ph.D.: Medically related, including counseling. Apart from Covid, certifications/licenses/courses that are in demand; health care always but also in the trades.
Michael Eschelbach Ph.D.: A good job out of college is any job, some might argue. A better job would be one that employs what you studied in college because it asks you to do what you prepared to do. A still better job is one that offers the opportunity to use the whole college experience in problem-solving, creativity, interpersonal relationships - learning, thinking, and communication skills that allow you to see an opportunity, be inspired by it, and pursue it.
Dr. Stephanie Baran: I think there will be an impact, but I don't necessarily think graduates in the social sciences will find an issue getting jobs. If anything, at least what I've seen from my students is that they are resilient and are flexible to the changes that occur around them. So, the impact that the coronavirus had on graduates showed them ways they could innovate and be responsive to changes. I think those qualities are desirable for post-graduate work.
I also don't necessarily think sociology will "change"-the social impact of the coronavirus-how it continues to affect groups in varying intersections of race, class and gender are all the main threads of sociological inquiry. Students may find more opportunities post-graduation in organizations that address social stressors-like the impact on mental health services, social services and how the pandemic disparately impacted women, women of color, BIPOC and marginalized groups in different ways and how society directly feels the impact from inaction from governmental structures.
Dr. Stephanie Baran: I do not believe this has changed much-aside from the increase of distance learning. I know that in my teaching experience, the things students learn in class are directly relatable to their future endeavors. Sociology teaches its majors, minors and (other students simply taking the course for credit) how different social structures impact different lives, differently. Therefore, being able to be proactive, assess situations, understand different relationships are all still important. I think a skill we can as instructors instill in students is simply asking for help and knowing who to talk to/reaching out to others is imperative to mental health. I think employers are the ones that need to shift and provide access to different work/life balance resources, versus the graduate always being on alert.
Dr. Stephanie Baran: For recently graduated students, or students about to graduate, because they may not have a lot of work experience, it is helpful to use the work they completed in their different courses, emphasizing their ability to think through complex issues, showing the ability to navigate/be flexible then things quickly change. They can also use some of the skills acquired from the pandemic-like more online/computer skills, which may be helpful to their coworkers.
Christina Erickson Ph.D.: The market for social workers has remained high for several years. Social workers have become an important component of most health care settings and the pandemic has only increased this reality. I don't anticipate any shortages in medical social work in the years to come, only growth. Medical social work is particularly interesting for people who care about the connection between physical and mental health, like the idea of working in a health care setting, and appreciate a fast paced environment. However, the pandemic will likely impact other social workers, too. School social workers will likely assist in addressing back to school issues for families, and certainly social workers who care for elders, and those who assist with death and dying. Because social workers are found in so many different sectors of society, much of their work will be impacted by the pandemic.
Christina Erickson Ph.D.: Gap years are welcome for students. Generally, I see a great deal of maturity as students move through the four years of college and this is necessary to prepare them for the demands of being a professional social worker. A gap year often increases the maturity level of students and can provide rich experiences that prepare them for college. A good gap year for a social work student includes human interactions that require students to work across human differences. That difference can be in a variety of forms, age, culture, gender, faith tradition, experiences, or even ways of thinking. What matters most is the student's ability to describe their own growth as they worked across those differences. Not about how other people changed because of their interaction, but how they changed to meet their goals and learn from others. Experience solving problems is helpful, too. Even learning how to take the first steps to deal with a challenge and being able to describe the steps, grows critical thinking and evaluation skills important for the most successful social work practitioners.
Christina Erickson Ph.D.: First, don't be afraid of informational interviews. You'll find social workers in many parts of society, and many of them will love to talk about their experiences. Draft up a few questions, three will suffice, and interview someone to see if the kind of work they do interests you.
Second, peruse the website of the National Association of Social Workers. As the professional organization for social workers, they house enormous amounts of information about careers, education, requirements for continuing education, and give you a sense of the direction social work is headed as a profession. Find out if you are comfortable with their information and how they discuss the profession and the future they suggest.
Finally, social work is a licensed profession, like teaching, nursing, law or medicine. Make sure you want to enter a profession in which you are required to be licensed by passing a test, follow a code of ethics, and commit to continuing education to maintain your license over many years. In most states there is a governing body that manages licensing. Look up the name of your state, the word license, and social work to learn more about what that would entail where you hope to work.
Dr. Carla Alphonso: I expect more remote work options and also more jobs opening in health care and social services. Not only due to the pandemic but to the aging of the babyboomers. We will see a greater need for medical social workers, hospital administration, and non-profit administration (and especially in the nursing home/assisted living sector). Contact tracing and research on human social behaviors during the pandemic will continue to be important.
Dr. Carla Alphonso: Skills involving data collection and analysis remain important, and are one of the qualities that help sociology majors to stand out compared to their peers. Communication skills, especially strong writing skills but also confident, effective public speaking, are helpful in today's job market. Sociology students are also well-positioned in terms of problem solving and critical thinking skills. Many jobs that our students enter need applicants who are solutions-focused, and sociology helps students in that area.
Dr. Carla Alphonso: Sociology students can easily find work wherever there are people and wherever there are social problems. In other words, just about anywhere! Again, due to the aging of the babyboom generation, I would recommend areas that have large proportions of elderly including Florida, Maine, and West Virginia. More jobs may be available in urban areas, but there are needs for workers with sociology skills in rural areas, too. More social services and non-profits are located in urban areas and especially in/around state capitals.