Report: Job prospects for grads shrinking in fragile economy

Maria Nann

Job prospects for college graduates are down but still existent, according to a report from Michigan State University.

The Recruiting Trends Report for 2008-09 shows employment opportunities dropped 8 percent from last year, but three large employment groups are keeping the job market open:

&bull those that are competing internationally.

&bull those that are facing high retirement rates from baby boomers.

&bull those that are small but growing rapidly.

Ami Hollis, assistant director for Career Services, said other companies are struggling because of the economy.

“People aren’t spending that much money,” she said. “When people have to decide between whether they can afford to buy groceries or something else, obviously they’re going to choose groceries.”

What’s still working

The report suggests the best hiring outlooks are in science and technology fields.

Computer Science Chairman Robert Walker said just in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – 71 percent of new jobs are in computer science.

“A lot of people were very aware of computing back in 2000 and 2001,” he said. “But there are actually more jobs now than there were at the height of the dot-com boom.”

Walker said the Northeast Ohio Technology Coalition recently conducted an analysis that states there are 2,700 unfilled jobs in information-technology in Northeast Ohio alone.

“It’s interesting because there’s this huge number of jobs, but all these people coming in don’t think there are any jobs,” Walker said. “There are all these companies looking to hire, and there’s no one to hire.

“Some companies are actually taking students from other scientific backgrounds and training them in computer science.”

The unfilled information technology positions illustrate why the University System of Ohio encourages universities and students to focus on the STEM fields. The hope is that concentration in these areas will help boost Ohio’s economy.

Robin Selinger is the graduate coordinator for the Chemical Physics Interdisciplinary Program, the graduate program that lives in the Liquid Crystal Institute. She said CPIP currently has a 100 percent employment rate.

“Our students are in enormous demand worldwide,” she said. “We don’t see any unemployed students with graduate degrees.”

Engineering is another field considered open, according to the Michigan State report, but it’s a program Kent State doesn’t offer.

“(Engineering) is one that was also down that’s sort of come back,” Walker said. “Like many of the sciences, it suffers because there aren’t many students going into it.”

Shifts in the hiring process

The report also cited a growing shift from on-campus recruiting by companies to job fairs and expansions in internship and co-op programs.

Hollis said companies are going to do what works for them.

“For the past several years, all organizations have found their internships and co-op programs to be very lucrative in terms of hiring their full-time entry positions,” she said. “Those are the most successful ways to expand their organizations. Expanding those (programs) makes sense because it’s what works.”

She added that such programs also are beneficial to students filling the positions.

Hollis isn’t sure whether companies will benefit from switching to personal job fairs.

“If they’re hiring for all different types of positions, I think it’s much more beneficial for them to come onto campus,” she said. “If they have specific needs, obviously a niche event is going to work well for them because they can market to one specific major.

“I think they’re trying to switch things up, which is great because when you become stagnant, that’s when you are not increasing your candidate pool.”

How to beat the market

To beat the dismal economic outlook, the report recommends students aim to be three things for employers – focused, directed and connected.

Sophomore English major Ben Harmath agreed these are important qualities. He plans to go to Idaho State University to get a degree in creative writing and become a professor.

“It sounds good,” he said. “It’s hard to find a job as an English major. It’s going to be demanding, but I’m confident in my abilities.”

Hollis said that with the tight job market, students need every advantage possible. She suggests students prepare for the interview process even before applying for the job.

“I think the top qualities that employers are looking for haven’t changed over the past five to ten years,” she said. “They always want students to have certain qualities, and they have to have those certain qualities.

“They definitely have to know how to sell those qualities in their cover letters, resumes and through the interview process.”

Contact academic affairs reporter Maria Nann at [email protected].