In March, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate fell to 6.2 percent. In one sense that’s good news: unemployment had been dropping for 10 straight months after peaking around 15 percent in April 2020. Still, by early March the country had yet to return to the sub-four percent levels of 2019 and early 2020. The job market remains relatively tight, and the competition is fierce.
These trends are, of course, threatening employability for seminary graduates, and that prospect, coupled with the investment of time and resources to earn a degree, are leading many seminarians to wonder about their chosen calling. Aside from congregational ministry, what other fields would welcome their skills and knowledge, and offer the promise of a good job?
There may be light at the end of the tunnel. As economists point out, COVID-19 has caused a major “reallocation” of jobs. While employment has dropped in certain sectors, it has risen sharply in others. Organizations that are staffing up need professionals with excellent people skills (read: theologians), who have both the skills and the temperament to support and nurture a thriving workforce.
The challenge for advisors, then, is to show the school has a history of equipping students with excellent job-hunting skills and for securing a high placement rate for graduates who have found gainful employment.
What other fields will welcome their knowledge and skills, and offer the promise of a good job?
Here are some ideas for helping students better compete in this job market.
Introduce alternative roles and career paths. Point students toward career fields available to them (health care, chaplaincy, community service, nonprofit administration, philanthropy, and the corporate sector) where there are unexpected opportunities.
Identify talents. School advisers also should help graduates with skills assessment. Resources include Skills Matcher, provided at no cost by the U.S. Department of Labor, or Clifton Skills Assessment.
Teach students how to speak “employability.” Graduates should emphasize skills and achievements; it is not enough to describe their experience. Career advisers should prepare them to explain the value they will bring to the organization. And they should be able to answer, “Why didn’t you go into the ministry?”
Ease the transition to a transactional culture. Graduates must also learn to speak the language of the “transactional” culture, where one’s value to a firm is determined by what can be measured. Most seminarians emerge from a school culture termed “transformational,” where personal worth and well-being are inherently affirmed, and not subject to quantification.
Manage digital search. Artificial intelligence tools to scan resumes have been commonplace for years. Coach graduates on the language of effective resumes and how to conduct virtual interviews. Firms also now expect students to have a presence on LinkedIn and Facebook; provide the guidance they need for constructing online profiles.
Extend the network. Networking is one of the key means to uncovering job opportunities; that’s why social media can be so powerful. Introduce students to organization research resources like Reference USA, Yelp, and Glass Door. And don’t forget to incorporate your alumni.
Pull out all the stops. There are a number of proven avenues into the employment market and career advisors should guide graduates to them: company websites; job boards such as Indeed and Career Builder; staffing agencies; social media; and direct outreach. For some, taking the independent entrepreneurial path may turn out to be the best direction.
The bottom line is this: helping your students and graduates broaden their awareness of opportunities helps make them more attractive to potential employers. And being able to talk about their success stories may also pay dividends for your school’s student recruitment strategies.