College grads still facing tough job market

By Andrew Alexander

The employment outlook looks just a shade brighter for college graduates this year, but the overall picture is still dim. 

For the first time since 2007, employers report a double-digit increase in their spring hiring projections, according to results of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2011 Job Outlook Spring Update. 

The first hiring projections made for the Class of 2011 in the JobOutlook 2011 Fall Preview showed a planned increase in hiring of 13.5 percent for this year’s crop of new graduates. In the latest NACE update, employers indicate they plan to hire 19.3 percent more graduates in 2010-11 than they did in 2009-10, according to the study.

NACE’s 2011 Student Survey shows that 41 percent of participating seniors who applied for a job received an offer. In comparison, at this time last year, just 38 percent of the Class of 2010 who had applied for a job had an offer.

Despite the rise in job offers, however, just 24 percent of those who applied for a job reported having a job to go to following graduation—the same percentage as last year at this time.

“We’re seeing many more seniors applying for jobs this year, and we’re also seeing more turning down job offers,” said Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director, in a press release found on the organization’s Web site.

In fact, nearly three-quarters of 2011 seniors reported applying for a job, up from just 45.5 percent in 2010. Last year, 59 percent of those offered jobs accepted them: This year, acceptances dropped slightly to 58 percent.

“This year’s graduates are a little more willing to hold out for a different job offer,” said Mackes.

Even with the slight increase in offers, other analysts say the overall picture looks dim for the future of the the economy.

Andrew Sum, a professor of economics at Northeastern University, reported in an article published in October of 2010 that recent trends in the job market could be crippling our nation’s economy in the future, despite the fact that unemployment rates have decreased slightly.

Sum believes college graduates age 25 and under are making their way home and finding the job market to be a cruel place for themselves and their recently framed degrees of higher learning –  only about 50 percent of graduates are working at a job that actually requires a college degree.

That does not include the number of graduates with no job at all.

So, with bachelor degree recipients working at minimum wage jobs in the retail and fast food industries, or not working at all, there is a trickle-down effect that bleeds throughout the job market.

When a college graduate takes a job that does not require a degree, then high school graduates and GED holders have to look somewhere else. 

This trend has the potential to cause the younger population to reconsider going to college altogether, according to Sum’s report, but there are local efforts in place to help prepare and encourage high school students to go to college.

“We believe that educators and employers are not communicating the way they should,” said Ted Moore, Executive Director of McNairy  Regional Alliance.

Moore feels that graduates entering the workforce are under-prepared to perform the tasks required of them at the positions that are open.

To combat this issue, MRA encourages high school students to become involved in the Tennessee Scholars Program.

This program requires high school students to obtain four years of math and science courses, and participate in community service opportunities that will better prepare students for college and the future job market.

From another perspective, some college graduates have turned the tight job market into fuel to pursue graduate degrees.

Nick Surratt, a former Adamsville High School scholar and a reecent graduate of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, took this route.

Surratt opted not to come home and, instead, pursued a master’s degree in law at the Nashville School of Law after being unsuccessful in finding a job that would utilize his skill set and degree after graduating from UT.

“I never got any feedback,” said Surratt, referring to his experience looking for jobs around his current home in Murfreesboro. “It’s hard to get a call-back these days – no matter what you do.”

Employers show little interest in the qualifications and degrees people submit to them during the application process, said Surratt.

“They have really dehumanized the process,” Surratt said, in reference to online application entries, and the disinterest shown when job seekers request an application in person.

Acquiring a master’s degree goes a long way in determining opportunities that will be available, and it improves one’s chances of getting a job in one’s field of study. 

On the other hand, it is expensive, and students tend to mount up a pile of debt that they will be paying off for quite some time after graduating.

Another former AHS student and recent graduate of the University of Tennessee in Martin, B.J. Gibbs, says a good attitude goes a long way.

“Don’t get depressed,” Gibbs said. “Stay positive and things will work out.”

Gibbs graduated from UT-Martin with a degree in Secondary History this May and has moved back home with his parents since then.

 “With a record number of graduates finishing college, you’re competing against so many qualified people,” said Gibbs. “I couldn’t find a full-time job as a teacher, so I worked as a substitute.”

At first, Gibbs didn’t get many interviews, he said. 

“They didn’t need teachers, and didn’t want to waste their time,” he said.

But living at home has its benefits. 

“My parents are very supportive,” he said.

Gibbs says things are looking up, and his future holds a job educating in western Arkansas, so while some are still struggling in the job market, others are beginning to see doors of opportunity opening.