After grad job slump, big hiring back at U.S. colleges

Expected to climb 10.2 per cent in 2012
By Jilian Mincer and Jennifer Merritt
||Last Updated: 04/02/2012

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sean Chua expected the hunt for his first job after college to be tough. After all, he watched his brother struggle to find a position when he graduated back in 2008. But his fears were unwarranted. The 21-year-old justice major at American University in Washington, D.C., sent out only seven resumés before getting an offer earlier this month from IBM for an IT consulting job, making him a beneficiary of a turnaround in the labour market for graduates in the United States.

"My mom's first position was with IBM so she is particularly proud," said Chua.

Hiring is back in a big way on many college campuses, one of several signs a recovery in the U.S. jobs market is gaining traction. After four years during which many students graduated to find no job and had only their loans to show for their studies, most college campuses are teeming with companies eager to hire.

A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found 2012 hiring is expected to climb 10.2 per cent, above a previous estimate of 9.5 per cent.

Companies such as General Electric, Amazon, Apple and Barclays Global are looking for new staff, even if some firms remain below the pre-recession levels of new hiring. In another sign of the recovery, some first-time job seekers are receiving multiple offers.

At University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the career service office has seen a 7.4 per cent increase in the number of interviews of students by potential employers from last year and the number of companies seeking to recruit for full-time jobs is up 9.2 per cent.

The number of undergraduate business majors reporting full-time job offers is up about 10 per cent. Career experts at a dozen of U.S. schools said they have seen an increase of 15 to 30 per cent in the number of companies attending campus career fairs.

At University of Florida in Gainesville, Fl., the fall career fair garnered 15 per cent more companies in attendance than in 2010. And 150 companies asked to conduct interviews versus about 100 in recent years, said Ja'Net Glover, associate director of employer relations at the school. The increase in demand was so significant, it was the first time in years the school had to use both the first and second floors of the school's basketball facility for interviews.

"It's kind of like a no-brainer," said Kathy Sims, director of career services at UCLA in Los Angeles. "The economy is better and the college recruitment market is improving."

While the U.S. jobless rate fell to 8.3 per cent in February, unemployment among college graduates over the age of 25 stood at 4.2 per cent. Historically, their jobless rate is one-half that of Americans with only a high school education.

Over the recession, unemployment among graduates climbed as high as five per cent, sparking protests over the rising tuition cost of some U.S. colleges. U.S. unemployment data for March, due for release on April 6, is expected to show a total of more than 200,000 jobs were created in the month, keeping the overall unemployment rate at 8.3 per cent.

Backlog from past years, interns soar

College graduates' earnings are also on the rebound. NACE said the median wage for first-time job seekers after college for 2012 is up 4.5 per cent higher than a year ago to US$42,569.

That initial pay level can resonate over the span of a career. Several studies show the lifetime earnings for workers who enter the labour force at a time of economic recession are lower than the lifetime earnings of those who are hired amid an economic recovery.

Given the tepid recovery of the economy, some caution is required. In 2008, many college graduates who had already accepted job offers were later away. After the run of lean years, many graduates are stuck in low-paying jobs and professions they never intended to follow, meaning there could be a backlog of well-educated workers who need to get their careers on track as well as new graduates.

However, with a wide range of employers — from automakers to investment banks — back on campus offering internships and full-time jobs, and not just for engineering, computer science and math majors, the outlook for the class of 2012 looks rosy.

General Electric wants to hire 5,000 interns this year, up from its usual 3,000 to 4,000. Since 70 per cent of its full-time hires come from the interns pool, Steve Canale, head of global recruiting, said that uptick will also translate into more full-time jobs after graduation. "(Companies) are saying, 'We have an aging workforce and we have to replenish the pipeline.' GE has always done it but this year a lot of other companies are also reloading their talent pool," Canale said.

Chrysler said it plans to hire 400 interns this year compared to 256 in 2011. The automaker has also hired almost 4,000 salaried employees since June 2009, about one-quarter of whom are new college graduates. The pickup in hiring extends to industries that were among the hardest hit during the financial crisis. Schools report banking and financial services companies have returned to campus for the class of 2012.

It's a stark contrast from just a few years ago when smaller firms appeared on campuses to replace the corporations no longer showing up.

"Even students with lower grades are finding opportunities," said University of Notre Dame's Lee Svete, director of career services, who believes job placement at the school is up about seven per cent. In 2009, only 75 per cent of students had jobs or plans for graduate school at graduation. This year, the school expects that to climb to 85 to 88 per cent, closer to the 90 per cent level of 2007.

Nathan Pace, a senior at American University, hasn't yet found a job, but is confident for his future job. He started the college four years ago and he has since seen each class of graduating seniors have better luck finding jobs. Many of his friends recently secured job offers.

"The vibe on campus is that people are excited," said Pace.

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