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The Job Market For Recent College Grads

Audio

Aired 5/17/10

In today's economy there are many challenges that recent college grads will face while searching for jobs. We'll take a look at what opportunities are out there for recent college grads and what they should be doing to prepare themselves for the workforce.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. In the next few weeks, thousands of students at San Diego colleges and universities will be getting their diplomas. After the speeches and the parties, it will be time for the graduates to join what many call the real world of work and career. But the economy is in recession and jobs are tight. We asked some soon-to-be SDSU graduates about their prospects.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: From my classroom experience, I have to say probably only about 25% of it while I’ve been in college has been truly applicable to being in the real world.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: To be quite honest, I’d say the most important thing I’ve been learning was just from my interaction with other students and teachers outside of school.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Well, I’ve been searching for jobs now for about three months, I’d say. Unfortunately, I haven’t really had any prospects, nothing. I had one unpaid internship offered to me.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: I’d probably say 20 to 25% who are graduating and who are looking for jobs are actually going into the field that they were studying. If I don’t get a job within the next two months, I start running out of money, start applying at restaurants and then if after a month or so I still can’t find a job at a restaurant even, my lease will be coming up so I’ll be possibly having to move back home with my parents for a little while.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: Well, for me, the scariest part about graduating is that I’ve been so lucky and fortunate to have my parents’ support in these last four years here at school. They’ve been paying rent, they really support me because they know I’m committing a lot of my time and I’m throwing myself fully into my education. So now it’s going to be like, you know, getting a job and then also supporting myself independently. So I need to be making money immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: I – I got an internship going a year ago and, you know, that led to my full time offer. And, you know, to get that internship in the first place I was kind of networking with KPMG as well as other accounting firms.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: I think for the most part, if you didn’t have an internship or a job in a company that you want to work for before, it’s really hard now to get into a company cold.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: When I initially started looking for jobs, I was looking purely for a full time, entry level job. But after I’ve gone through it, something I really realize is that I need an internship and that’s what really gets you into the office. Because I really don’t think that just getting a college degree is what it takes to be ready for the workforce.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: I’m a little uneasy. Certainly, I’m anxious because, you know, it’s a big change and there’s going to be a lot of challenges that need to be met but I’m also really excited. You know, when you go through school, you’re being given the tools to succeed and now you really want to find out do you have what it takes and, you know, see if you can really make it.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: I’ve had like a rollercoaster of emotions and it’s exciting but it’s exciting because it’s something new and it’s exciting because it’s something scary.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Most people are asking me if I’m excited but I think I’m much more anxious than excited because having almost no prospects for a job makes me very nervous.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: The jump from college to the working world is just another one of those very large, you know, changes in somebody’s life.

CAVANAUGH: Those are some of the voices of students who will be graduating from SDSU this month. Now I’d like to welcome my guests. James Tarbox is Director of SDSU Career Services. Good morning, James.

JAMES TARBOX (Director, San Diego State University Career Services): Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And Gary Moss is with the San Diego Workforce Partnership. Gary, thanks for coming in.

GARY MOSS (San Diego Workforce Partnership): Quite welcome. Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Good morning. We invite our listeners to join the conversation. If you’re a recent college graduate, tell us about your job search. Or if you have a question about the job market, give us a call. The number is 1-888-895-5727. Well, we just heard that montage. It seems there is a real range in what these 2010 graduates are planning on doing in order to get work after they graduate. What should a student expect from their college degree nowadays? Is the degree still an opening door to the job market?

TARBOX: Maureen, that’s a great question and, yes, it is. Most of the employers, I would say, actually all the employers that come through and do things like career fairs and on campus interviewing with our office require, at the most basic level, a bachelor’s degree, and that’s why they’re working with our office. So the gentleman in the clip who said something to the effect of, you know, having the degree is just the entry point and then almost a yearlong job search, that’s actually the case that we’re seeing these days. Also, the incredible importance of internships to develop those skills that they’ll need to go into the workforce and to show employers that they are adaptable and that they’re able to transition into an effective – or, as an effective employee.

CAVANAUGH: Gary, I’m going to pose the same question to you. What – Is the value of a college degree still the thing that opens the door for most kids looking for work?

MOSS: It sure is, Maureen. The college degree is the door opener and it shows the employers that, hopefully, the college graduates have the ability to think but also they’ve had the persistence to complete the degree. So it gives them that advantage of having completed four years of education and also some specialized education here at the university setting. It gives the students a chance to really compete in the market and that’s kind of the name of the game…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

MOSS: …these days is competition. We know that unemployment is high in the region. It’s averaged about 11% for the first couple months of this year, and we’re looking for that to drop a little bit toward the end of the year but it’s – unemployment is still going to be high. The numbers of people who are unemployed is very high also.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

MOSS: So we have high unemployment, high numbers of people unemployed, new job seekers entering the job market, and very few jobs being created. But the degree is still the door-opener, and those that have degrees over the long term will earn much more money in the workplace than those that do not.

CAVANAUGH: Once again, we’re opening the phones for recent graduates. If you want to tell us about your job search or if you have a question about the job market, our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Now a recent survey done by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that about 25% of graduating students have a job lined up, which is actually up from about 20% of students graduating last year, largely due to the fact that students are accepting more job offers. Why, James, are students accepting more job offers, do you think, than last year? Is the reality of this recession something that’s very much on the minds of these graduates?

TARBOX: Maureen, that’s an excellent question and the answer is definitely. What we’re seeing is actually over the last four years that we’ve been collecting data on this about things like are you going to accept an offer for a full time…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

TARBOX: …job from an internship, has steadily increased. And I was really pleased to see the results from NACE because oftentimes what students would do in the past is they’d say, well, I did the internship, I’m going to look elsewhere. And what I’m seeing them do now is a real mind shift in terms of saying, you know what, this is a great experience, I’ll take it, I’ll leverage it, maybe wait things out and look and see in a couple of years what’s going on. So, it is, it’s very encouraging news.

CAVANAUGH: That’s a very practical concern for a lot of kids, you know, the idea was in the past was, as you say, well, you know, I’ll look around for a while but I suppose if somebody actually gets a job offer in this market, they’re more likely to take it. Would you say that was true?

TARBOX: Absolutely. And you know what we’re seeing also is, is that we see a lot of employers doing what I would call ‘just in time’ recruiting this semester. It’s up, actually, overall from last year at this time. If the student is prepared and they understand the importance of getting there, meeting the employer and accepting the offer, they’re going to do very, very well. It’s those students that aren’t that are going to have the problems. So I’m encouraged by the involvement of employers on campus this semester.

CAVANAUGH: And what constitutes not being prepared for a student?

TARBOX: That’s an excellent question. You know, in the montage that was played earlier, you heard people saying, some people saying they were just starting to think about it. And if a person is just starting to think about it and they try their ideas on with an employer before they’ve had a chance to practice them, say, with Career Services, then they’re not prepared to go in and actually have a successful negotiation with an employer.

CAVANAUGH: And, Gary, do you know of any specific industries that are really looking for recent graduates, you know, the people that come in on a – perhaps on an entry level and grow with the company?

MOSS: Sure, Maureen. Again, from the national study, we’ve seen that there’s going to be some growth in the – in those who have computer related degrees, so in that high tech area. Finance managers, accountants and those people that have that accounting, auditing background, and also those who are involved in electrical engineers, engineering types of positions, there’s going to be some growth there. Locally, we’re going to be seeing some growth in some of those similar types of industries. Growth here in San Diego and across the nation is going to be slow. There’s other pockets, other cities, other states that might be growing faster. Here in San Diego, we’re looking about maybe for a 1% or slightly less of new jobs to be created this year. That translates into about 8,000 to 15,000 new jobs to be created this year. So it’s a slow job growth market and that typically happens when we’re coming out of a recession. New jobs are the last indicator. New jobs are the last thing to be created as we’re coming out of a recession.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly.

MOSS: But, again, we will be seeing some growth in education and health services, and education probably more in the – in the private sector because of some of the budget concerns that are going on in the public side. Health services, there is some growth there again, and health services is going to be a longterm growth area. There’s some difficulties there currently because some employers are – have the job openings but they’re not hiring due to concerns, budgetary concerns within the organization and concerns about the recently passed healthcare bill, so there’s concerns there. Leisure and hospitality will provide opportunities, professional and business services and that includes some of the legal, engineering, accounting positions that we talked about. And also in the financial services fields, so there’s some opportunities locally.

CAVANAUGH: And James.

TARBOX: And could I add…

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

TARBOX: …actually what we’re seeing an impressive action on is the federal government. The federal government is really working to recruit its next generation of workers. And you might’ve noticed, for example, on May 11th that President Obama signed a new mandate saying that they had to improve the way that they recruit for the federal government. In the past, it’s been about a six month process and now we’re looking at going to 80 days. And on San Diego’s – and at San Diego State in particular, we’re seen a huge increase in the federal employers, everybody from the FBI to CIA, SPAWAR, they’re all coming to campus and saying we want to be more closely connected to your students so we can recruit the next generation of workers. I’m guessing that’s going to take place for about the next three years, so students who are out there looking, I’d say look very seriously at the federal government.

CAVANAUGH: We’re talking about the job search underway for 2010 college graduates. My guests are James Tarbox, he’s director of SDSU Career Services, and Gary Moss is with the San Diego Workforce Partnership. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And let’s take a call right now from Mary, calling us from downtown San Diego. Good morning, Mary. Welcome to These Days.

MARY (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

MARY: I just wanted to make a comment. I graduated from San Diego State in 2007 and I spent about the last 7 months of my college career job hunting even though I hadn’t yet completed my degree. And I realize the circumstances are different now, only three years later, than they were then. But I really didn’t take advantage of any of the resources available to me on campus because I really didn’t know what they were, and I’m just wondering if you guys have any information for graduates and soon-to-be graduates or any percentages on how they’re really utilizing the resources that are available on campus?

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that, Mary. And I’ll go to you, James, for that.

TARBOX: Mary, thank you for that excellent question. Actually what we’re seeing is since August of 2009, an increase of about 20% on our online resources. We have a protected online resource for SDSU students only, and we’ve gone from I think it was 15,000 to just over 18,000 students who are registered on it. We also are working with recent alumni to provide services to them free of charge and so we rolled out last year what’s called a Career Services University and we had a month-long series and we offered several workshops including the year-long job search. And I was really impressed to hear Mary say that she actually started hers 7 months out. More to the question in terms of what are we doing. We actually work with many, many areas on campus and this year we instituted the first ever speed networking event, which is what we did was we moved out to the colleges and we actually told them, you know, help us to recruit students to come in and network with employers. And what we did was we did something like speed dating. We brought in about – It worked out really well. We brought in about 20 employers, we had – we opened it up to 70 students from each college, and we ran eight events and it was extremely successful. Our in-person traffic is about a third of the students, and we’re always working to improve that. So online we’re seeing an increase, and in person we’re seeing an increase, all since about August 2009.

CAVANAUGH: And Gary.

MOSS: Yes, Maureen, our organization the San Diego Workforce Partnership, we fund a series of career centers throughout the county. We have six career centers and several satellite career centers that are located in libraries but we have these career centers that individuals who are coming out of any type of educational setting, be it high school, community college, a university, anyone who’s just looking to change jobs, anyone who’s looking to get back into the job market, can avail themselves of the services at these career centers. In them, we offer various types of workshops that provide information on how to do – conduct a job search, how to interview, how to dress for an interview, things like that. We won’t…

CAVANAUGH: Do…

MOSS: …guarantee that we’ll find them a job but…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

MOSS: …we’ll help them in their job search.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you some – Do most just recent college grads, do they know how to do this stuff? I mean, do they know how to dress for an interview and conduct themselves during an interview and so forth? Or is that something that there’s a lack of knowledge about do you find, Gary?

MOSS: Well, we think it’s kind of a lack of knowledge. And it’s not only for recent job graduates but it’s also – or college graduates, but it’s also for individuals who’ve been on the job for a long time and maybe have recently lost their job. So there’s a whole sort of set of rules that need to be applied as someone who’s looking to conduct their job search. When they go out on interviews, how to customize their resume for each type of job that they’re applying for, to get some information on each company that they’re applying for, and when they’re fortunate to get that interview, to make sure that they do their homework in advance to know about the company, to find out about what the dress code is like at that particular company and what the culture is of that company.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, there’s sort of a – there’s been sort of like this myth around about young people, recent college graduates, James, they’re sort of loosey-goosey and they don’t kind of – they don’t show up on time and they’re kind of taking things very relaxed. I would imagine that that’s not exactly the way you get a job.

TARBOX: No, it’s not. And actually, you know, to just build on what Gary was saying earlier, at San Diego State, we have many first generation college students. And so they haven’t had that experience and we have to do a lot of work with them. We do a lot of outreach to make that happen. I will tell you, the more relaxed attitude has shifted dramatically and I think you see it from the NACE results and you see it in our office, incredibly, where students are being real pro-active. They’re coming in, they really want to learn.

CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering how – we heard in that montage, James, that about 25%, I don’t know where that student got that number, but the student said about 25% of the people that he knows are probably going to get a job within their major. What do we actually know about that? Does it depend on what your major is?

TARBOX: Yeah, that’s an excellent question, Maureen. It certainly does. You know, many majors—I’m a comm studies major and we have a Communication Department here on campus and I didn’t go into communication, quote, unquote. And many majors don’t, psychology, sociology, they actually take the skills that they have and leverage those to go into a degree. For the students that major in things like accountancy or engineering, of course they’re going to go into those fields and they’re going to be recruited fairly quickly. But the others do have to make that leap and someone mentioned in the montage about the giant chasm, it is a giant chasm because you have to learn how to translate what you’re doing now into what you might be doing later.

CAVANAUGH: Right, Gary, I wonder, is that one of the things that the Workforce Partnership might do, is take an individual who comes in with a degree and then find out all the various aspects, all the jobs and careers that that degree might be applicable for?

MOSS: Yeah, absolutely. And we take a look at the educational background of the individual and the types of skills that they have. There can be other skills that someone has learned prior to entering school and skills that they have learned in their internship or while working during the summer. So we take a look at the entire individual and see how those educational background and the skills can translate into some advantage for employers to hire that particular individual.

CAVANAUGH: How about an internship? We also, going back to the montage, heard one student said, you know, it seems to me now, even though I haven’t taken one while I was a student, I’m going to have to become an intern in order to get the kind of job I want in the field that I want it. Is that a reasonable assumption, James?

TARBOX: You know, in a good economy, I would say no. I would say that the person should get a full time job but if, let’s say for example, the person were a public relations major and they didn’t do an internship, that is something they might need to look to do. I would be real cautious to offer that as advice for people for a number of reasons, the first of which is, is that graduates coming out of college today really do have opportunity if they’re prepared for it. And if they accept an internship and they commit for six months to being in an internship, they might take themselves out of the competition for the job market. And I really want them to stay in and compete because I think that they’re well positioned and I would hate to see them go into an internship just for the sake of saying that they had something to do after they graduate.

CAVANAUGH: Gary, are there other alternatives to maybe if your search for full time employment is not working out very well, can – I would imagine part time employment maybe if you’re going to be a temp or something like that? How does that work out for recent graduates?

MOSS: Those are both great suggestions, Maureen. Part time employment is an opportunity. Working with temp agencies, that’s a great opportunity. There’s excellent temp agencies. Some really specialize in certain fields but others are – try to target more broadly to various local employers so those are great suggestions. There’s also going back to school, maybe working on your master’s degree, so that’s an opportunity, going on to get some additional education and training. I know we fund some job training programs here at the university at the extension program and also at a lot of the community colleges, so there’s opportunities there. And there’s also possibilities of maybe looking at other regions. If you have relatives or friends in other markets around the country that are showing some growth, there might be opportunities if you’re open to relocating to move to those areas. James mentioned the federal government. There’s a number of jobs that are being created in the Washington area, other states, New York, Baltimore, Hartford, Boston, Seattle. Texas is a major area that’s going to be generating a lot of new jobs, so that’s a possibility also.

CAVANAUGH: With the idea that you might always come back to San Diego.

MOSS: Exactly right, exactly.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take…

MOSS: All roads lead back to San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a phone call. Tony’s calling us from Vista. Good morning, Tony. Welcome to These Days.

DAVID (Caller, Vista): Good morning. How are you?

CAVANAUGH: Just great. Thank you for your call.

DAVID: Okay, but the name’s David.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, all right. Sorry, David.

DAVID: Well, listen, I was listening earlier and he had made a comment about that, you know, with the college degree that you were guaranteed to make more money. I’m going to have to disagree with that a little bit. I grew up a kid who – in the fifties, didn’t have much high school education or college, ever since I was 18 I got my first job sweeping floors, and then moved on into aerospace technology. I’ve been in it ever since and I make just as much or more money as if I’d had a college degree. My wife, on the other hand, has three master’s degrees and she’s been out of work now for over a year and a half.

CAVANAUGH: David, thank you for your call. I understand that. That is a real problem, I know, for some people. Are there as many, however, jobs like just stepping into aerospace engineering the way perhaps you could do back in the sixties that actually have – will give you the kind of an income that you can live on?

TARBOX: To my knowledge, no, and of course there are exceptions to every rule. And the other thing is, is that as we come out of this recession and we look at things like the investment in a college education, I’m sure we’re going to see, again, exceptions to that rule. But general speaking, most organizations set themselves up in such a way that there is a hierarchy and typically the entry point for those hierarchies and the better paying jobs are a college degree.

CAVANAUGH: You know, I want to ask you a question that we had a caller on the line but he couldn’t stay. What affect does having a visible tattoo have on your job search? I think that’s a question for a lot of kids these days. Let me ask you, Gary.

MOSS: Sure. We get that quite often with young folks who have visible tattoos. And what our advice to students or anyone who has a visible tattoo is to make it invisible.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

MOSS: To do the best you can to cover it up, if it’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt, if it’s some type of makeup, whatever it is, but to make sure that that’s covered up. It’s not – In some particular industries, it might be acceptable but as a general statement, employers would prefer to have that – those types of personal markings covered up.

CAVANAUGH: Well, besides covering their tattoos, James, if there were one piece of advice—because we’re low on time—that you could give to people looking, recent college grads, looking for work now, what would you give them?

TARBOX: Well, first and foremost, be determined and don’t be discouraged. And can I just say one thing?

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

TARBOX: Use social media appropriately. If you’ve been using it to do something other than project a professional image of yourself, take a second look at that because employers are actively engaged in that venue.

CAVANAUGH: So Facebook and tattoos, two problems we didn’t have.

MOSS: Exactly. Exactly.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you – Gentlemen, thank you so much for speaking with us today. I really do appreciate it. Gary Moss, thank you.

MOSS: My pleasure. Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And James Tarbox, thanks for coming in.

TARBOX: Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And I want everyone to know that this segment of These Days was produced by our two SDSU student assistants who are graduating this month. Congratulations, Rachel Ferguson and Jordan Wicht. If you’d like to comment online, please do, KPBS.org/thesedays. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.

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