BTC graduate: Degree was ticket to job

June 10, 2013

From “Job prospects on tentative rise for graduates” — Derek Rice thought about going back to school.

A couple of years ago his employer at Menlo Worldwide Logistics in Beloit passed over him for a promotion because he didn’t have a college degree.

“I’ve got 10-plus years of warehouse experience. You name it I’ve done it,” the 36-year-old Janesville resident said. “They were hell-bent on having someone with a degree, and it didn’t matter if it was related to warehousing or not.”

He then got another job in Janesville after a worker was out recovering from a surgery. Even after he was told it was a permanent position he was let go after the worker returned.

After that he talked with his wife, Danielle, and they decided he should go back to school to get his associate’s degree at Blackhawk Technical College. The decision wasn’t easy having two kids at the time, and recently welcoming a third, but Danielle’s job in healthcare allowed them to live off the one salary. He recently graduated with a degree in Information Technology Network Specialist.

“I’ve always worked on computers on the side at my home,” he said. “First time I went to college was for computers so I’ve always liked working with them.”

Recent graduates are still feeling the affects of the recession even though the market seems to be improving. Jeff Scott, IT instructor at Blackhawk Technical College, said graduating students are not only competing against their peers, but also against other workers who have lost jobs due to downsizing in the workforce.

“Right now it’s more of an employer’s market versus an employee’s market,” Scott said. “So in some ways potential employers have the pick as far as if they want someone with more experience. So what I tell students is, ‘What you have to realize is much of the experience you have is very relevant and new compared to those that have been downsized.’”

However information technology jobs is one area that is seeing growth in the average number of employees. Towards the end of 2011 there were about 1,100 jobs in information technology in Rock County, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD). In the fourth quarter of 2012 there were more than 1,300 IT jobs in Rock County.

“It’s kind of across the board,” said Dave Winters, chief labor economist at DWD, on the average job increases. “We’re seeing it in construction, manufacturing, professional and business services, IT and healthcare.”

Construction added about 400 jobs between 2011 and 2012 going from 2,200 to more than 2,600 average employees in Rock County. Manufacturing grew by nearly 600 positions up to 9,032. Health services positions grew by about 400 positions between 2011 and 2012

Statewide the numbers are similar to the county numbers. About 395,600 were employed in the health services in 2012 compared to 390,300 in 2011. Construction workers by about 1,000 workers up to 93,000 and manufacturing grew by about 10,000 from 443,000 to 453,000.

Winters said there a couple different factors economists look at when determining the strength of the job market such as the unemployment rate and income tax revenue generated by the state.

Cathy Wickersham, director of community based learning at Beloit College, said the college works closely with the students through all four years.

Both Wickersham and Scott said having internships on a resume has significantly helped recent graduates over the last several years. Beloit College now requires students to do a unit incorporating some aspect outside the classroom.

“In terms of surveying employers what most want from college graduates is the ability to think critically, communicate effectively and also they are looking for students who have demonstrated an ability to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and take it beyond the classroom,” Wickersham said.

Scott tells students to emphasize internship experience on their resume when applying for jobs.

“It’s mainly because of younger students,” he said. “A lot have very little to no real world experience. I tell them to highly emphasize the fact that they have had an internship. One thing that employers have told me is that it shows some stability on their part.”

Rice said professors tell students for every 10 resumes sent out usually one will call back for an interview, and a job offer tends to come every five to seven interviews.

“So for about 50 resumes sent out you should get at least one job offer,” he said.

Rice currently is training as a computer support specialist at Data Dimensions in Janesville. Looking back he knows he made the right decision going back to school.

“There’s no doubt I wouldn’t be in the position I am without my degree,” he said.


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