Published on February 25, 2022, at 3:15 p.m.
by Morgan Keel.
According to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, 80% of college students have changed their majors at least once. Much like “Friends” character Ross Geller’s famous line of “Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!,” many college students have also made the decision to “pivot” career paths as they rushed into their advisors’ offices to change their majors. Pivoting becomes a daily task for those who land in the field of communications. With new communication methods entering the field, PR professionals are always watching the latest trends to stay up to date with client needs.
COVID-19 made everyone pivot in some way. PR professionals relocated to new offices in their homes, and college students found new classrooms in their dorms. While professionals had experience in the field before COVID struck, students were still learning objectives, strategies and tactics to build their PR foundations.
Fallon Acker, assistant account executive at MP&F Strategic Communications, noted that, if she could have been in the college classroom when COVID hit, “it would have been helpful to be virtual because that is the world now.” She explained that it would have allowed her to get more comfortable in the virtual environment.
PR professionals were forced to pivot just like college students. “I would say a challenge first going into COVID was learning how to unmute myself and how to speak up in a virtual meeting,” stated Acker. The only difference is that college students were still in an academic environment.
With all of the changes going on, young college graduates are left with one question: Did COVID bring new skills to the forefront of employers’ wish lists? According to Larry Baldwin, director of the Human Resources Institute and management professor at The University of Alabama, “The emphasis in recruitment is always going to be on knowledge, skills and abilities [related to the job].” Therefore, job requirements will stay the same, but for those with the COVID college experience, they will have an extra skillset to use.
When asked how she thought COVID would have affected her college journey, Mary Catherine Molay, digital marketing director at Mutual Savings Credit Union and Public Relations Council of Alabama (PRCA) student mentor at The University of Alabama, said, “[Being an undergraduate during the COVID pandemic] would have rocked my world and changed it dramatically because of how involved I was. It would have been difficult to go from spending most of my day on campus to being limited to my apartment.”
Molay noted that at this point in the pandemic, everyone has been affected by it in one way or another. She added that “while employers are looking for someone to meet the hiring requirements, they understand that there is no ‘perfect’ candidate and that everyone will have some learning to do.” However, she explained that most employers are looking to make sure that “you or anybody is adaptable to the ever-changing needs of the job whether we are or are not in a pandemic. Adaptability is key.”
Thanks to the circumstances around the college classroom right now, adapting to change is second nature to students.
An undergraduate student at Mississippi State University, Maryanna Morris entered the college scene as universities were still figuring out what the college experience would look like behind the mask. Morris noted that Mississippi State requires PR students to take three foreign language classes. She said learning Spanish in a virtual classroom was difficult because the students could not see the teacher to understand how to make the sound of the word.
But, with remote learning, Morris believes that students have learned how to communicate through videos. Morris and her fellow classmates were still able to learn a foreign language through video platforms such as Zoom. Because of this experience Morris noted, “As a society and university, we have learned how to adapt.”
Taylor Tobin, a 2021 University of Alabama PR graduate, feels that the pandemic gave her more opportunities. She said, “I found more passions and hobbies for myself.” Of course, she was disappointed that her college years were changed by COVID. However, Tobin said, “If it was not for being remote, I would not have been able to hold all the positions I did in organizations, internships and other jobs.”
Luckily for post-pandemic or future graduates, the pandemic skillset is a bonus area of study to their bachelor’s degrees in PR — a minor, if you will. Post-pandemic graduates are leaving their respected universities with skills that pre-pandemic grads did not learn while in college, such as video conferencing, virtual event planning and learning to work remotely.
Human resources specialists also realize that graduates are bringing a new skillset to the workforce. Baldwin stated that “COVID has not enhanced or declined the student’s education. What it has done is make the student more aware of their surroundings and perform at a higher level.”
Baldwin also noted that COVID graduates have the “skill of being able to improvise, being able to learn while under these conditions and being able to thrive when the pressure has been on.”
So, for the students who are labeled COVID graduates, pivoting has been a norm throughout their college journeys. While most college students did not expect to have a “minor” in COVID, it is a benefit to them as they enter into a workforce that is still feeling the after-effects of the pandemic.
Much like Ross trying to pivot the couch up the stairs, students have learned how to pivot, too. As a result, they will move their tassels to earn a bachelor’s in PR and a minor in COVID.