Will an economic downturn affect student recruiting?

A combination of demographics, technology and economics make student recruiting recession-proof.

With the recent downturn in the North American stock markets and the slowdown in GDP growth, it appears the economy is losing some steam. If Canada heads into a recession will it affect campus recruiting?

Are the 250,000 students that graduate in May going to have trouble finding jobs?

Will companies pull the plug on their university and college recruiting programs and focus their efforts on reducing their numbers through attrition and layoffs?

Ask any student who graduated between 1990 and 1994 what their job prospects were and they say “slim and none.” Campus career centres were having trouble filling their job fairs and many companies put their student recruiting plans on the back burner.

With experienced managers being laid off, there was no need to go out and hire inexperienced students.

What a difference a decade makes. Today, although the economy appears to be slowing down, other factors such as demographics and the need for skilled labour will keep student recruiting strong — even if layoffs occur at the mid to higher levels of organizations.

Many of Canada’s largest employers find themselves in an unprecedented position. The average age of their employees is in the mid-to late forties, and in the next five years a significant percentage of the Canadian workforce will retire. Government agencies, public utilities, health-care organizations, oil and gas companies and the education sector are prime examples of industries that need “new blood.” Companies are aggressively recruiting graduating students now so they will be ready to fill management positions in the future. Hospitals are really feeling the pinch because the baby boomers are retiring from their staff and the aging population is requiring more medical attention than in the past. This double whammy has led to a serious shortage of registered nurses, medical technicians and rehab specialists.

The major difference between the early 1990s and today is that the need to recruit students does not depend on the strength of the economy. This makes student recruiting recession proof.

Technology has infiltrated all sectors of the Canadian economy. Companies in traditional industries like retail, oil and gas, and banking are embracing technology to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. Consequently, students graduating with technical skills are finding plenty of job opportunities.

Many retailers are using cutting-edge technology to manage their inventory, pricing, and customer relationships. Retailers are now fighting it out with high-tech employers like Nortel and IBM to find students graduating with IT and systems engineering degrees.

The exponential growth of the Internet has further increased the competition for students with technical degrees. Bricks and mortar companies have built their Web sites — now they need people with skills in HTML, SQL, Oracle, Cold Fusion, etc. to manage them. Many students are graduating from university and enrolling in colleges like Information Technology Institute, Canadian College of Business & Computers, and Herzing where they learn Internet-related skills. The demand for students graduating from these programs is high because companies are still building their online departments and need staff for these new positions.

Companies that recruit on university and college campuses build a relationship with specific schools over time.

In the early 1990s, many companies stopped visiting campuses because they were no longer looking to hire students. When the economy picked up in the late ’90s many employers reported they had trouble re-establishing themselves as a great place for students to launch their careers.

In just four years the entire undergraduate population of a school is replaced with fresh faces. Smart companies know that college recruiting cannot be turned on and off like tap water. Companies that want to get the most out of their college recruiting programs need to be on campus year after year to maintain top-of-mind awareness with students.

A great analogy that a senior college recruiter uses is that visiting campuses is similar to selling products in a grocery store: it takes a lot of work to establish your shelf space and once you have it you want to maintain your visibility in front of the shoppers. The same can be said for an employer’s brand when it comes to recruiting students.

In the early 1990s, many companies downsized in order to reduce their payrolls. Employees with less than three years of experience were generally the first to be fired. Ten years later, many senior managers are approaching retirement. Companies will save more by offering early retirement packages to older employees earning a high salary than by letting entry-level employees go. This will create new opportunities for growth with mid-level managers and open up positions for graduating students.

The above factors highlight why recruiting students is more important now than ever before. It is a competitive market out there and companies with a long-term strategy for success will be recruiting on campus regardless of the economic situation in Canada.

The key challenges for companies in the future will be assimilating the new recruits into the company, and bridging the gap between the veterans and the new hires.

Mark Laurie and Nathan Laurie are the Ontario Young Entrepreneurs of the Year and the publishers of Canada’s only student jobs magazine, jobpostings. They can be reached at 1-877-900-5627 or [email protected].

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