College graduates enjoy best job market in years

June 12, 2012

From postcrescent.com: “College graduates enjoy best job market in years” — The class of 2012 is leaving U.S. colleges with something that many graduates have lacked since the start of the Great Recession: jobs.

To the relief of graduating seniors — and their anxious parents — the outlook is brighter than it has been in four years. Campus job fairs were packed this spring and more companies are hiring.

College career centers — including those at Lawrence University, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and UW-Fox Valley — are getting more interest from employers. Students aren’t just finding good opportunities; some are weighing multiple offers.

In the past year and a half, 3.1 million jobs have been created. That’s a significant improvement from September 2008 and August 2010, when 6.9 million American jobs were eliminated.

Jenny Frank, an administrative professional at the paper company Appleton, received a job offer before she graduated from Fox Valley Technical College last year. She applied for multiple positions while in school to improve her chances of landing a job after graduation.

“It’s very competitive, and you need to know a lot of skills going into a job,” Frank said.

While in school, Frank said she and her friends piled on internships and part-time work experience amid classes at FVTC to gain an edge during the shaky job market.

In some ways, members of the class of 2012 got lucky because they were largely insulated from the collapsing U.S. economy. They arrived on campus in September 2008, the same month that Wall Street investment bank Lehman Bros. collapsed, touching off a financial crisis that exacerbated the recession.

While older brothers and sisters graduated into a dismal job market, they took shelter in chemistry, philosophy and literature classes. They used their college years to prepare for the brutal realities of the job market that would await them.

They also developed more realistic expectations about landing a job in the ideal place and at the ideal salary, said Mary Meany, dean of Career Services at Lawrence University.

“Some always aim high,” Meany said. “But what I hope to instill in students is that the first job is your entry point. From there, you can move into that ideal job.”

The employment outlook for college graduates is especially promising.

The unemployment rate for college grads 24 and younger averaged 7.2 percent from January through April. That rate, which is not adjusted for seasonal factors, is down from the first four months of 2011 (9.1 percent), 2010 (8.1 percent) and 2009 (7.8 percent.) For all Americans, the unemployment rate is 8.1 percent.

Richard White, director of career services at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., said job market remains tough and new graduates are competing for entry-level jobs with graduates from recent years. Yet this year’s graduates are less likely to face the disappointment of moving back in with Mom and Dad, or being forced to work at a coffee shop to pay off loans.

Chris Matheny, director of vice president of instructional services at Fox Valley Technical College, said job placement rates have taken a slight dip since the market crash. Within six months of graduation, 85 percent of FVTC students have jobs, down from more than 90 percent.

Despite the slightly lower placement rates, enrollment numbers are up, said Matheny, who added that the school works with employers to make sure FVTC’s programming will give students the skills sought-after jobs now require.

“I think that’s a sign that individuals in our community are looking to us to provide practical, hands-on knowledge and experience that is going to benefit them and help them find a job in our area,” he said.

Johnathan Dudzinski, who graduated in May from University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, isn’t waiting for a company to make him a job offer. Instead, he plans to open a financial firm in Appleton or Oshkosh.

He said graduates settling for any job that comes their way aren’t doing themselves any favors. While it’s a tough job market, no success or advancements can be made by an employee with no passion for their work, he said.

“I’m concerned when I have friends who take jobs they know they’re going to hate,” he said. “I think that’s short-sighted.”

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