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Story Careers

Post-COVID Career Success: What it’s Going to Take

Hazel Kelly

New and soon-to-be CSU graduates are well positioned to navigate the post-COVID economy with resilience.

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​​​What will it take for college graduates to succeed in the post-COVID economy? We talk to CSU faculty experts to get their take on the economic outlook and the skills that CSU students will need to prosper in this new era.

State of Economy

The economy is recovering—faster than it did after the 2008 recession—but it's recovering in a lopsided way, says Seiji Steimetz, Ph.D., professor and chair of economics at Cal State Long Beach.

“We're making great progress recovering, but the people who were more disadvantaged to begin with are definitely still struggling the most," Dr. Steimetz explains. “And that corresponds to those who work in face-to-face and service industries and tend to be in lower income and lower educational attainment groups."

In Los Angeles County for example, jobs that earn over $60,000 a year have an overall employment rate that is about 3% lower than it was last January, Steimetz says. But for those who make $27,000 a year or less, employment is down about 30% compared to a year ago.

The good news for CSU students and graduates is that those with a college degree are more able to weather the storm than those without higher education. “One of the key benefits of graduating from the CSU is that it offers a personal level of resilience. The best antidote to unemployment is education," he says.

“And considering that a large proportion of CSU students are first-generation college students from underrepresented communities, education offers opportunities for these students to get out of the disadvantaged class," Steimetz says. And that opportunity is really magnified during a global economic crisis—in this case, brought on by a pandemic, he adds.

“Education offers not just more opportunities, but opportunities to be more resilient when things go bad."

education offers opportunities to be more resilient when things go bad." —Dr. Seiji Steimetz, Chair of economics, cal state long beach

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center confirms that a bachelor's degree provided some level of protection for workers during the COVID-19 recession. Unemployment increased by only 2 points for those with bachelor's degrees between December 2019 and December 2020, while it went up by about 4 points for those with less education.

“Generally, the careers CSU graduates pursue have rebounded well so far in the COVID-19 recovery period," says Robert Eyler, Ph.D., professor of economics at Sonoma State University.

Dr. Eyler says that in the long-term, energy tech and medical tech/biotech are likely to be California's best bets in terms of new entrepreneurship that match global markets. “Tech firms have flourished as we move more of our lives to a digital format. For CSU graduates, such firms have been seen as high demand for careers and are likely to continue hiring over the next two years or so," he says.

Many CSU graduates may also see themselves in health care, which is likely to continue its growth once all restrictions are lifted, Eyler explains. Factors such as our aging population and the increase in the number California biotech firms contribute to this growth, he says.

Steimetz says he expects that some brick-and-mortar retail trade may suffer a bit in the long run as consumers have become more comfortable with online transactions. And he suspects that the demand for office space may not reach its pre-pandemic levels, as working from home has become more widely accepted.

There will be inevitable structural changes or shifts in the way we do post-COVID business, Steimetz says. But those shifts should not be seen as economic damage. “We're going to have growth opportunities in other parts of the economy."

Broader Skillsets

The economic shifts brought on by the pandemic will result in a demand for broader skillsets in the workforce, Steimetz explains. While the need for nurses, engineers and computer scientists will not go away, there is an increased need for people who can effectively communicate via digital tools and those who understand how humans interact.

“Considering the political climate that's been exposed through this pandemic and our social-economic condition right now, I think there's going to be a big demand for those who have a much broader, well-rounded general education and a wider perspective of the world," Steimetz says.

“Look at what's happened with social media, for example. I think this is probably a great time to be a communications major or journalism and public relations major. Look at what's happened with the need to understand the political economy through social media. This is a great time to be a political science major."

Another in-demand skillset is the ability to understand and analyze data—in any field. In a Cal Poly press statement, Jonathan Ventura, Ph.D., assistant professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Computer Science and Software Engineering Department, said, “Employers across all industries are increasingly looking for applicants with experience in data preparation, analysis and visualization." Ventura is part of a multidisciplinary research team at Cal Poly that's leading an initiative to expand on-campus educational opportunities in the areas of data science, data analytics and data literacy for all students. 

Miran Day, an assistant professor at Cal Poly's Landscape Architecture Department who is also on the research team, stated, “We've seen more data shared and available in the mainstream, both on the news and on social media, so many more people are familiar with data sets and graphs through looking at coronavirus case counts. It's even more important now that people know how to read and understand data."

In addition to data literacy skills, the post-COVID workforce will continue to need “soft skills," such as collaboration, critical thinking and adaptability.

A 2020 Chronicle of Higher Education survey conducted of 255 hiring managers at companies or nonprofit institutions that employ 1,000 people or more showed that soft skills, such as communications, critical thinking and problem solving are key.

Eyler says that an understanding of diversity and being compassionate is likely to emerge as an in-demand soft skill, given the combination of political concerns in the U.S. and COVID-19's wake.

While there will inevitably be some bumps in the road as the economy continues to recover, the CSU remains committed to producing career-ready graduates to fuel California with the next generation of bold, talented and diverse leaders.

​​​Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning is now more important than ever. To adapt and stay relevant in this rapidly changing job market, many workers will need to learn new skills or earn certifications for career advancement.

“Those who are creative, adaptable, good problem-solvers and good team players will always be in demand, regardless of how drastically the workforce landscape changes," says Sheila Thomas, Ed.D., assistant vice chancellor and dean of CSU Professional and Continuing Education (PaCE) . "And the CSU is helping to prepare students for success, no matter where they are in their career journey."

Throughout the pandemic, many CSU campuses are offering free courses to essential workers—a program called Courses for Causes—through Professional and Continuing Education.

Visit the CSU's  PaCE site to find information about degrees, certificate programs and online courses.​