Job prospects brighten for college grads

Apr 27, 2012

Seniors at the University of Wyoming will be graduating next week, and while the job market is still tight around the country, prospects for finding employment have improved significantly this year. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden Reports.

WILLOW BELDEN: Hannah Hopp is an agro-ecology major at the University of Wyoming. Going through college during the recession, she wasn’t sure what to expect from the job market. She pictured herself applying to dozens of places, in hopes of getting a single offer. But the process was a lot easier than she anticipated. Hopp applied to just three jobs …

HANNAH HOPP: It was about a month or two until I heard back from two of them; I interviewed the same week for both of them; and then got a job up in Gillette.

BELDEN: A job in her field – doing what she wants to be doing.

HOPP: I really wanted in to the horticulture side of things, and I got very lucky.

BELDEN: Lucky, perhaps. But Hopp is not alone. UW’s director of career services, Jo Chytka, says hiring is picking up this year.

JO CHYTKA: You know we saw it last spring, that the number of companies coming to our career fairs and posting jobs with us was increasing, and this year, unfortunately all the roads were closed in Laramie for our spring fair, but we would have had the largest number of companies attending. So it’s definitely a better market than it has been the last couple of years.

BELDEN: Chytka says during the height of the recession, only about 40 percent of graduates found jobs. Whereas this year, she expects that between 55 and 58 percent of the students will find work within the next six months – which is comparable to pre-recession levels.

Some colleges within the university are expecting even higher employment numbers.

STEVE FARKAS: Last year, for 2011, the College of Business had a seventy percent job offer rate. … And I would expect the trend that we’ve seen from 2011 to continue into 2012.

BELDEN: That’s Steve Farkas, who runs the career center for the College of Business. The College of Engineering is seeing a major uptick in hiring too. Ryan Kobbe heads career services there. He says two years ago, he was only able to pass about 30 job posting along to students. This year, there have been more than 50.

RYAN KOBBE: That’s significant. … We’re starting to come close to our pre-2007 numbers. … I think a lot of the companies are actually now hiring these positions that they left vacant in 2009 and 2010. And so we’re seeing good growth.

BELDEN: Kobbe says about 40 percent of engineering students have jobs lined up already. And 40 percent are planning on grad school, which only leaves a small percentage who have yet to find something to do.

Predictably, a lot of the jobs are coming from the energy industry. And tech-related positions are also on the rise.

It’s not smooth sailing for everyone though. Students with majors that don’t have clear career paths tend to have a tougher time finding work. Emma Knox is one of those. She’s an English major and wants to write for a living – ideally at a newspaper or magazine.  But so far she hasn’t had any offers, so now she’s applying to low-level jobs, just to pay the rent.

EMMA KNOX: Pretty much everything and anything – dishwashing jobs, gas station attendants. Pretty much just entry level, almost no experience required.

BELDEN: Knox says she doesn’t know of any fellow English majors who have jobs lined up in their field yet. And she says she’ll probably have to go to a larger market to find the job she wants.

Even in fields that are theoretically growing, some students are struggling. Education is a good example. Recent legislation requiring smaller class sizes in K through third grade means that elementary school positions are opening up. But that means some districts are cutting at the secondary level. So students like Matt Parish are facing an uphill battle. Parish wants to teach  high school social studies, and he says there are only a handful of positions open in Wyoming.

MATT PARISH: Per one opening that opens up in the state, there’s about 150 applicants who will apply for that job. So it’s pretty competitive.

BELDEN: Competitive is a word that career services staff are tossing around a lot – even as they talk about improvements in the hiring market. Jo Chytka warns that while there are more jobs this year, there are also a lot of unemployed people seeking to fill those jobs.

CHYTKA: So there are experienced people who are looking for entry-level positions because they’ve been laid off. I think there’s a bottleneck of people that maybe went on to graduate school because the market wasn’t healthy at the point when they were graduating, and are now graduating from graduate programs.

BELDEN: Chytka says many of those people are competing for the same jobs as college graduates. But she adds that if the economy doesn’t get worse again, she expects the bottleneck to clear up within the next year or two, and she says that will be good for all job seekers. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Willow Belden.