Testing Your Mettle: RT’s 2011 College Grad Outlook

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It looks better than a hot stick in the eye — slightly.

For this year’s crop of graduating college seniors, many of whom started their post-secondary careers just as the real estate bubble began exceeding maximum capacity, there were at least a few years to mentally prepare for the job seeking slog that lied in wait.

Now that D-day has arrived, those proud, freshly minted holders of a B.A. or B.S. can find solace in that, overall, they should have a slightly easier time landing that first job than last year’s grads — but the search still won’t be easy.

Not surprisingly, the recession — and a subsequent “jobless” recovery — has been especially tough on college grads. Unemployment remains high among those under 24, double the rate for those ages 45-65.

Nationwide, only 38 percent of 2010 grads who applied for jobs received an offer, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, down from 66 percent before the recession; the number of grads who couldn’t find work, or ended up in less-than-ideal retail or restaurant jobs, grew by 70 percent over the last two years.

The NACE survey wasn’t all doom-and-gloom though: More than 53 percent of respondents planned to increase their college grad hiring, up from less than 50 percent in 2010. More good news: If math was your thing in college, know that this year’s most in-demand degree is in accounting.

Other attractive majors to employers this year include finance, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, business administration and management. A hot commodity in the Midwest is a computer science degree.

I’ll Take “Cold Comfort”

for $1,000, Alex!

“It’s a lot better than last year,” said Dr. Phil Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University on job prospects for this year’s grads. “I think next year is when you’ll see it really turn around.”

If this moment in time was an episode of the game show Jeopardy!, “What is cold comfort?” could likely be the question this year’s grads would most often answer with.

According to the MSU 2010-2011 Recruiting Trends survey, employers do plan to hire 13.5 percent more new grads this year. The study indicated both large corporations and small businesses feel confident in the recovery; leading sectors include manufacturing, professional and scientific services, federal government and large commercial banks.

And, if trite cliches are helpful, this latest round of hiring is arguably the silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud. It’s the first hiring expansion that has benefited the bachelor’s degree market in two years.

Nearly 40 percent of responding companies said they plan to look for candidates across all majors. “‘All majors’ is not a proxy for liberal arts,” Gardner said. “But it is a signal that employers are seeking the best talent regardless of major.”

On-campus recruiting, always a good barometer of the job market for graduates, also provides a shimmer of hope. The University of Michigan has seen an across-the-board 47 percent increase in on-campus recruiting since fall, according to Lynne Sebille-White, U-M senior assistant director of employer relations at the university. “We’re back to 2007-2008 levels,” she said. “But not as good as we were in 2006.”

At MSU, computer science and IT majors were aggressively recruited, according to Gardner. “Demand for these grads currently outstrips supply,” he said.

If you’ve got a Fancy

calculator, You’re in

According to Martha Schanno at the Society of Automotive Engineers, recruiters at the SAE World Congress Career Fair held in Detroit in April were aggressively recruiting engineering graduates in advanced engineering, electronics, hybrids, batteries, logistics, body controls and software.

At Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, 150 employers have been on campus recruiting in engineering, IT and computer science. “We’ve seen larger companies making a comeback as well as a lot of smaller companies supplying diverse industries including automotive, aerospace and industrial manufacturing,” said Jennifer Cunningham, assistant director of career services.

Those number crunchers aren’t fairing too poorly either. Nationwide, accounting firms are actively recruiting this year. According to representatives from Deloitte, the accounting and consulting firm plans to hire 8,500 graduates; Ernst & Young says it is looking to hire 7,000 employees from college campuses this year — 4,500 full-time and 2,500 interns.

“Business, accounting, finance and marketing majors are being recruited; and there’s more activity for human resources, communications, sales and advertising degrees,” Gardner said. “Some majors will see fewer opportunities, including construction, education, law, publishing, nursing, social services and health sciences in general.”

Prospects up for ”Harvard on the Highway” Grads, too

This summer also looks to be better than last for community college graduates and certificate earners looking for a job. According to Bob Penkala at Macomb Community College Career Services, the college is seeing an increase in the number of employers contacting the school for job candidates.

Last year between January and May, there were 297 job postings on the college’s Macomb Career Link. “This year,” Penkala said, “we were already at 446 postings by April.

“We’re seeing a wide variety of organizations recruiting here — health care, manufacturing and service industries.”

Where You’ll Work

and What You’ll Earn

According to the MSU survey, hiring is being led by approximately 350-400 large corporations looking to fill open positions.

Smaller, fast-growth companies with between nine and 100 employees are expected to boost their workforces by as much as 19 percent this year.

Startups with fewer than eight employees plan to increase hiring across all degree levels by two or three individuals per firm. New grads would do well not to overlook these types of companies as they plan their job search, according to U-M’s Sebille-White. “Graduates can quickly make an impact at these kinds of firms,” she said, adding that the number of job postings from startups is on the rise at U-M.

Of course, spending tens of thousands of dollars and at least four years earning your degree means you’ll be in the driver’s seat when it comes to salary, right? Short of the delirium in salaries that exists in Google-stan (the area between San Francisco and Palo Alto, Calif.), most employers aren’t tendering huge offers or offering signing bonuses. Advice for grads: Align salary expectations to the “new” new reality.

According to the MSU survey, 80 percent of responding employers will not raise salaries this year. Four percent of companies plan to reduce salaries by nearly 10 percent. Only 17 percent of companies reported that they plan to raise salaries — and then, only by a modest 3 percent.

The average starting salary at the associate’s degree level ranges from $32,500 to $39,900, while those at the bachelor’s degree level can expect starting salaries from $36,500 to $40,000, down about $10,000 from the same period in 2008-2009.

The big drop could be attributed to an increase in the number of smaller companies and nonprofits taking part in the survey. Those types of organizations tend to offer modest salaries. But — make no mistake — salaries have been stagnating for the past two years, Gardner said.

Salaries are holding steady for business and engineering grads, while salaries in the social sciences, communications, humanities and sciences are slightly lower this year.

“You’re Hired!” or “Hey, I Just Found a Needle in a Haystack”

Although prospects for college grads are improving, it’s only the “first step out of a deep hole,” according to Gardner. “Many organizations still are not in a position to contribute positively to hiring,” he said.

In other words, competition for jobs will remain fierce. Grads who have an internship under their belt will have an easier time finding a job. Employers are increasingly looking at co-ops and internships in addition to GPA and leadership skills, said Cunningham from Lawrence Tech.

Larger companies are filling more of their full-time positions with interns, adds Sebille-White, who advises grads who don’t have a lot of experience in their fields to consider summer internships.

“Finding a job takes a lot of hard work,” she said. “It’s more about an individual’s ability and how they fit into that organization. Grads with all majors should highlight their communication and technology skills.”

Incidentally, communication skills led the list of top skills wanted by employers, according to the NACE survey. Other skills on the list include strong work ethic, initiative, teamwork and analytical skills.

Flexibility is also key.

Many graduates returning home may have to consider looking beyond Detroit to find positions in their field, like Wayne State University journalism grad Robert Guttersohn, who is interviewing this month for a position at a newsroom in Ohio.

“I’m willing to move or do what it takes to find a job I want,” said the 27-year-old. “I’m nervous about the job search — I don’t know how long it will take to find one — but I’m also excited about starting another chapter in my life.”

According to Gardner, the recovery in the college grad market does not run deep, and landing that first job won’t be easy. He advises new grads not only to research growing businesses in the area they want to live but to also contact a faculty member at their school to see if there are any recent grads who have started businesses in their field. His message for students? “Be focused, directed and connected.”

Penkala from Macomb Community College reminds new grads that there are jobs out there for all levels of education. So, grads, set aside skepticism about trite advice and embrace the words of wisdom: “Don’t get discouraged — and don’t give up.”

 

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