Job outlook improves for college grads

Job outlook improves for college grads

April 22nd, 2012 by Carey O'Neil in Business Around the Region
Photo by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.


Employer hiring on college campuses this spring is highest for engineering and business and weakest in social services

College major Percent of employer respondents hiring

  1. Engineering 69 percent
  2. Business 63 percent
  3. Accounting 53 percent
  4. Computer sciences 49 percent
  5. Economics 22 percent
  6. Physical sciences 19 percent
  7. Communications 16 percent
  8. Social sciences 16 percent

9 Humanities 13 percent

  1. Education 3 percent


Since the recession cut college hiring, the number of employers hiring spring graduates has risen for the past three years.

Year Yearly change

Spring 2007 19.2 percent gain

Spring 2008 8 percent gain

Spring 2009 21.6 percent decline

Spring 2010 5.3 percent gain

Spring 2011 19.3 percent gain

Spring 2012 10.2 percent gain

Source: National Association of Colleges and Employes, Bethlehem, Pa.


Although more employers are hiring, more graduates are competing for those jobs this year.

Year Job postings Job applicants Average No. of applicants per job

2009-10 5,174 209,852 40.5

2010-11 14,341 303,242 21.1

2011-12 15,767 514,181 32.6

Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers

Cara Dodd isn't sure what's waiting for her after she turns her tassel on May 5, but the UTC senior is confident something's out there for her.

Dodd is a member of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's largest-ever graduating class. She knows competition will be fierce for the public relations job she's looking for, but she hopes to be able to find a position within a few months of graduating.

"I'm a little nervous about it. I've heard so many bad things about the market," she said. "But I'm hopeful about it, just because I'm confident in the skills I've learned."

Dodd has reason to be confident. Employers plan to hire 10.2 percent more new graduates this year than last, according to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

College career center directors across the region say they're getting increased interest from employers, the best they've seen in the years since the recession. They attribute the bump to general improvements in the economy both nationally and regionally.

"More employers are hiring, and the employers who are hiring are hiring more people," said Jean Dake, UTC's director of placement. "We're seeing the job opportunities, but there's still a lot of competition for those jobs."

Employers receive an average of nearly 33 applications per job posting, up from 21 applications per posting last year. This year's graduates are competing not just with each other, but graduates from past years still searching for their ideal job.

But today's college grad seems more job-search savvy than pre-recession students. This crop of diploma earners spent all their college years in a recession and have searched out ways to make themselves more marketable when graduation comes.

"Generally, they're thinking about it more. Certainly more than I did when I was in college," said Anthony Tucker, director of Covenant College's Center for Calling and Career.

Today's employers don't want to see just a degree, Tucker said, but as much as a year and a half of related experience. That's causing students to seek out internships, even yearlong internships, to find their professional niche and prove their worth to potential employers.

Dodd said her nearly four-month internship with local public relations firm Chattanooga Presents was an important part of her college experience.

"I feel like I got a really strong foothold on what I want to do during the internship," she said. "It was really positive. Even though there's not room for me at the company, I think they would vouch for me for any other companies."

The most sure-fire way to get a job out of college seems to be getting a degree in engineering. Engineers are being sought by 69 percent of employers, and area college placement counselors only expect that demand to increase.

"Where do I see demand growing? Engineering technologies in a huge way," said Sheila Albritton, Chattanooga State Community College's director of career services.

Albritton said engineering demand is particularly strong in Chattanooga, as area employers like Volkswagen and Wacker Chemical continue to ramp up production.

That demand isn't just for the tech-minded. Albritton said she's seeing growth in demand across several professions, approaching pre-recession levels.

Whether a graduate's degree is in computer science or philosophy, there are jobs out there. Employers listed the ability to communicate, make decisions, solve problems and process information as the most important qualities in any applicant.

Companies slimmed down during the recession, and many found they can perform better with fewer employees able to handle a variety of tasks. That puts well-rounded applicants in high demand.

"You've got to have some flexibility and you've got to be prepared to multi-task, to do more than one particular thing," Albritton said. "Everything is somehow connected."

Commencement ceremonies for University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Covenant College, Chattanooga State Community College and Lee University will take place on May 5.

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