Graduates Job Prospects Improve

December 8, 2003
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EAST LANSING — College graduates face a slightly better job market compared to a year ago, although — as always — employment opportunities reportedly vary from sector to sector.

Overall, 41 percent of the employers nationally responding to Michigan State University’s annual survey indicated they would definitely hire new college graduates.

The recruiting trends survey is conducted annually by MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute.

The number of employers planning to hire is up from 36 percent a year ago, a reflection of the improving economy and stabilized labor market. The survey was taken prior to a surge in hiring that was reported at the end of October.

According to the survey, about 60 percent of the respondents reported that they planned to increase their hiring over last year or hire at the same pace.

The survey showed that the strongest labor markets for graduates lay in administrative services, retail, finance, health care and accommodations/hospitality. The labor markets described by the survey as “relatively weak” were manufacturing, transportation, professional services and information services.

Phil Gardner, director of the research institute, said that unlike past years, the survey indicated that small employers “will not be picking up the slack” in hiring college graduates.

The reason for that, he said, is that such firms already have access to a well-educated labor pool of previous graduates.

All of the information from the survey translates into a 9 percent expansion in job opportunities, Gardner added.

Nearly all degree levels showed an increase in hiring prospects, according to Gardner.

He said that employers who plan to hire college graduates will do so at a “much higher level” than those responding to the survey last year.

One exception, however, he added, is master’s degree candidates.

The survey’s results show that employers over the past two years are shifting duties now handled by people holding master’s degrees to workers with a bachelor’s degree.

To make themselves more marketable to prospective employers, he said, graduates need to develop and focus on “core competencies” such as communications skills, teamwork, a strong work ethic and motivation.

Professional flexibility, Gardner added, “cannot be emphasized enough.”

“Students need to use their personal leadership and work experiences to enhance their skills to compete successfully with others in the labor pool,” he said.

“(Employers) want individuals who have used their general university coursework to understand the broader context for learning and how it applies in the real world, and most importantly, how it applies in a global context.”

From what Gardner sees, he said, graduates who served internships or worked in an educational co-op setting — or have some other job-related experience — have an edge in the job market.

He said employers are looking for relevant past work experience and will give more consideration to those graduates with specific technical training that’s balanced with a liberal arts education.

“Internships and co-ops are becoming the preferred path to a permanent position and long-term staffing management,” the MSU report stated.

It’s Gardner’s view that many graduates may find themselves unable to enter their chosen field or find the ideal job right out of college.

He said such students will have to enter the job market in some fashion, “and then begin to position themselves for the job they want to find.”

Starting salaries for college graduates, according to the MSU survey report, will rise at a “very modest” rate of 1 percent to 2 percent.

Survey results also show that starting salaries last year actually contracted for some graduates with bachelor’s degrees.          

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