The skills of certain business, administration, and computer security professionals have been vital to keeping at least some functions of the economy operating while businesses, consumers, and workers cope with coronavirus shutdowns.

These professionals include administrators who keep hospitals functioning, supply chain managers who must keep parts and products moving to their destinations, and human resource managers who are helping their workplaces manage challenges such as remote work. Cyber security professionals, who are needed in all sectors of the contemporary economy, have new challenges to face in the current environment as well. While the virus has focused some extra demands on these fields, there can also be meaningful career opportunities for those interested in working through business problems and finding solutions.

Educators from Saint Leo University were able to describe relevant program offerings, which are all part of the Tapia College of Business at Saint Leo. Some programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate degree level. Bachelor's degree students are expected to complete the university's core liberal arts curriculum, so that they graduate with sound writing, analysis, communication, and reflective skills as well as an understanding of business.

Healthcare administration

Saint Leo University offers a Bachelor of Science in healthcare administration that adheres to the unique needs of the sector. The program is available at University Campus, several education centers, and online.Without skilled administrators at hospitals, clinics, insurance companies, laboratories, government agencies at various levels, and related settings, it would be impossible to provide most of the medical and psychological care Americans need. Administrators ensure that patients are admitted into health systems, that supplies are available, that regulatory expectations are met, and that the technology keeps pace with practice needs, just to name a few fundamentals.

Rather than taking generalized management courses, healthcare administration students are required to complete organization, law, planning, and community-needs, and quality improvement courses devised specifically for health and medical settings. Additionally, Saint Leo stresses that empathy, a customer-first service orientation, communications skills, self-awareness, and strategic decision-making ability are considered key competencies and leadership essentials in this field.

With COVID-19, challenges are steeper and needs are more urgent. An administrator at an organization could now be tasked with "ensuring the workforce has personal protective equipment, converting whole units into COVID-19-only units overnight, ensuring there are an adequate number of tests and ventilators for the expected flood of patients, and re-deploying clinicians and staff," said Rafael Rosado-Ortiz, who holds a medical degree (MD) as well as the MBA. He chairs the undergraduate program and holds the professional leadership credential from the American College of Healthcare Executives.

Rosado-Ortiz noted that while some pressures are acute and may be quickly resolved, it is important that students develop a career outlook and "learn to understand that leadership requires a long-term approach and that healthcare administrators are also leaders in their organizations, officially and unofficially. They also learn that healthcare administration is about anticipating what comes next, having trust in the senior executives, preparing your team to be ready to manage a crisis, and knowing how not to get trapped by the details of managing."

In addition to the undergraduate program, Saint Leo offers an online Master of Business Administration in healthcare management for those who have an undergraduate degree in a different field. Five of the MBA courses are specific to healthcare.

Supply chain management

The pandemic effect and failure in the healthcare supply chain system is one of several examples showing the need for employing supply chain specialists to manage the movements of products and services." 

Many industries, not just the health care sector, have encountered delays in getting goods and materials and logistical hurdles in resolving problems during the pandemic. In the view of Dr. Owen Roach, assistant professor of supply chain management, the pandemic "exposed the cracks and weaknesses in our companies', governments, and learning institutions' abilities to seamlessly organize the supply chain network. 

Roach asserted that the improved "supply chain and logistics management is the engine that will propel the economic prosperity for businesses post-pandemic."

This field is apt to be appealing to those who have worked in industry production, procurement, distribution, or have some military experience in a similar functional area. For those interested in high-level study of global commerce and the management of multiple supply chains, Saint Leo offers an online Master of Business Administration specializing in this area. Five courses in the degree program are devoted to supply chain topics.

Human resource management

While everyone is aware that companies and other workplaces have human resource functions for hiring, benefits, and compliance with state and federal regulations, the function has taken on a much higher level of prominence since the impacts of the pandemic, according to Dr. Sheri Bias, associate professor of human resource management. To be clear, experts in the field have long advocated that the human resource management function be regarded as a high-level, strategic function in the American workplace—appreciated for its potential to attract, train, and keep talented and proficient employees who add to a company's value—and not simply an area that handles forms and regulations, a view that persists among some.

Coronavirus has changed the dynamic within American C-suites, though, said Bias, who holds the profession's leading certifications and credentials, in addition to her advanced degrees. Bias said that executives "have come to realize the value of HR as a strategic business partner."

Human resource management professionals have stepped in to guide actions companies have to take for both customer and employee safety, such as the number of customers allowed in stores and showrooms, and the staffing schedules, social-distancing, and physical protection needs of the workforce. "Many companies were not ready for remote work," Bias offered as an example. "Did they have the technology resources to support telework?"

Other matters crop up as adjustments bring more levels of complications, she said. Are workers getting "Zoom fatigue" and in need of some respite, for instance, or is there even a way to curb that before it sets in? Usage of employee-assistance programs should be monitored to ensure that needs are being met and the resources are sufficient. These are things companies can do that help employees, but that also help keep a workforce intact and functioning for the eventual return to a better-functioning economy, whatever form that takes.

In addition to teaching during this period, Bias added that she is working on several studies with various research partners, surveying perceptions among both company executives at the vice president level, and among employees in general, about the pandemic impacts on human capital.

Bias said she thinks the new prominence afforded to the human resource function will persist after the end of the current situation, making the human resource management field an attractive career choice for people with management talent who want to be involved in strategic decisions and plans. She also said she expects that potential career entrants to the field will have to display a sophisticated understanding of organizations, as well as emotional intelligence, to move ahead in the field.

Classes in the subject matter at Saint Leo will undoubtedly change to reflect the impact the pandemic has had through new examples and discussion topics being introduced, and through the experiences of students, Bias said. Saint Leo offers a Bachelor of Arts in human resource management online and at some education centers. Others who already have a bachelor's degree might be interested in the Master of Business administration degree with a specialization in human resource management, with five courses on the topic.

Cyber protection needs

Cyber security professionals in entry-level and at management-level positions have been in short supply, even before the coronavirus outbreak. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said in April that it anticipated a 32 percent increase in demand from 2018 to 2028 for information security analysts with bachelor's degrees who protect organizations' networks and computer systems. That increase is much higher than the average for projected job growth overall (5 percent for all jobs, and 12 percent for computer-related occupations).

One might have thought that with a global slowdown, there would be less business-related computer traffic, and that may be so, but vulnerabilities did not disappear.

In fact, when companies tried to stay productive by having certain employees work from home, intruders located more potential targets to exploit. New and less secure pathways were opened to corporate and nonprofit data centers, servers, systems, and collaboration software, explained Dr. Derek Mohammed, professor of computer science.

In addition, attackers have essentially hijacked legitimate but poorly protected websites to install malicious code and from there dispatch harmful code on users' digital devices. Fake websites are also used to scam money from people who think they are making donations to good causes, and ill-intentioned people are breaking into videoconferencing calls.

So cyber security specialists have already had plenty of requests to train users to better repel attacks, to mitigate vulnerable spots that may exist across a big organization, and to help those who have been attacked, Mohammed noted.

"In addition, information technology security professionals need to keep an eye on the medium and long term, recognizing that remote work may become the norm for many employees long after the pandemic has ended," Mohammed stressed.  This will require development and deployment of more security processes and solutions, he said.

For instance, he said that organizations can employ "services to allow special remote access to their IT and application administrators. Further, multi-factor authentication services, including biometric and text-based methods, may be more widely adopted to enable access to internal applications."

The courses required for Saint Leo's Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in cyber security will equip graduates to take on these challenges, Mohammed said. Students can study at the residential campus or online. Mohammed also noted that Saint Leo's cyber programs are accredited by the U.S. National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security. (Saint Leo also offers a number of other information technology degree programs that can lead to successful careers in product or application design, technology asset management, data science, and more, for those interested in other segments of the industry.)

The Tapia College of Business at Saint Leo University attracts thousands of students annually. Saint Leo is also home to the College of Arts and Science, the College of Education and Social Services, and the College of Health Professions. To read a story on other degree programs Saint Leo offers that provide society with professionals who do important work in areas of disease tracking, research, patient care, support services, and community emergency management, visit this page.