Remote Work, Digital Networking To Become New Reality For Pandemic-Era Grads, Marshall Economist Says
Last year, the coronavirus pandemic upended thousands of 2020 college graduates’ career plans, but how does the landscape for jobs look now to the class of 2021?
In a nutshell, there have been fewer opportunities over the past year across the country -- and also in West Virginia.
“We know that across the country, nearly half of the  college graduates are stuck looking for work,” said economist Avinandan Mukherjee, a professor and dean of the Lewis College of Business at Marshall University. “And when they do find jobs, I found some numbers that suggest that about 69 to 70 percent are expecting lower salaries than they would before the pandemic.”
However, there is employment hope looming for 2020 graduates and the soon-to-graduate class of 2021.
“The market is definitely still pretty depressed, but we are looking at a pretty good recovery and rebounding of the economy in a very robust way,” Mukherjee said.
The virtual economy is booming, and telecommuting and remote work are likely the No. 1 trend in the future of work, according to Mukherjee.
He said that’s where the employee landscape is heading, but West Virginia has to be ready -- by way of adequate broadband connection and functional infrastructure, both digital and physical.
Mukherjee said West Virginia is on the right track, though, pointing to the recently announced Ascend West Virginia project, which provides a $12,000 incentive, plus a year’s worth of free outdoor recreational opportunities. The goal is to attract more people to move to West Virginia.
“It is, I think, the country's best remote worker program right now,” he said.
Mukherjee also points to the recent signing of House Bill 2002 -- a comprehensive broadband expansion bill. The bill offers new consumer protections to broadband users, makes the deployment of publicly owned infrastructure possible and expands on existing data-collection efforts to identify areas of the state that need high-speed internet.
All of this, Mukherjee said, will help West Virginia enter this new job landscape. He also said the gig economy, people who work in a variety of jobs as independent contractors, is seeing a shift.
“One of the things that's particularly relevant in this gig economy is this focus on reskilling and upskilling,” he said. “So, for students coming out of colleges and people with experience in the world of business, upskilling and reskilling is all that's going to matter.”
He said individual skill development, individual accomplishments, and stackable credentials will be important. Stackable credentials means a set of courses, also known as nanodegrees, to show a variety of certifications and skills. Mukherjee said these will be much more attractive to employers in an evolving gig economy.
Finally, Mukherjee said there are three top things that both 2020 and upcoming 2021 college grads need to remember: build skill sets, be comfortable with all kinds of technology and rely on and develop digital networking.
“It is more important than ever, because the jobs that many of these students … will be doing in the new economy of the future, the post-pandemic economy, aren't there yet,” Mukherjee said. “So, focus on skills, not just knowledge ... skills are the currency of the labor market right now."