Small and Large Organizations Plan to Hire More College Grads

Posted November 30, 2010 by

Phil Gardner of Michigan State University

The job market for college graduates has bottomed out – falling some 40 percent in the past year– as the market undergoes a colossal shift that demands graduates be flexible and entrepreneurial in the rapidly evolving global economy, according to Michigan State University’s latest Recruiting Trends survey.

Job growth in electronic commerce illustrates this shift. Employers are hiring critical-thinking graduates with the skills to capture more Internet business and help the company continually redefine its operation, said Phil Gardner, director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute, which conducts the annual study. “Employers want to be much more flexible; they want to be agile,” Gardner said. “They’re bringing in employees who can slide in multiple directions depending on what transpires over the next year. And that opens the door for students from a variety of academic backgrounds.”

According to the survey of more than 2,500 companies and institutions, hiring levels are at their lowest in several decades. In last year’s study, Gardner predicted hiring would be down 8 percent to 10 percent in 2009 – and it actually ended up falling 35 percent to 40 percent, he said. Coming off those dismal levels, overall hiring is expected to be down about 2 percent in 2010, said Gardner, who presented the results at the 16th annual Trends in Recruiting Conference on Nov. 20 in Chicago.

Mid-sized companies (500 to 4,000 employees) expect to decrease hiring by 11 percent, while large companies (more than 4,000 employees) plan to decrease hiring by 3 percent. The saving grace is companies with fewer than 500 employees, Gardner said. Contrary to media reports that most small employers are hurting, they actually remain the backbone of the college labor market, with hiring expected to increase 15 percent in the coming year, the study found.

While there is a group of small companies shutting down in the recession-plagued economy, Gardner said, there’s another, less-publicized group planning to hire if the economy rebounds. “These companies are guardedly optimistic about hiring over the next year,” he said.

In addition to students focused on e-commerce and entrepreneurship, other hot sectors that should see hiring increases include agriculture production and food processing, environmental sciences, information systems, manufacturing, nonprofits, statistics, nursing, social work, multimedia and Web design. The employment picture in K-12 education depends largely on whether states get federal stimulus money; without it, many teachers will likely be laid off. Non-academic jobs in higher education also will be tough to find. Other sectors that expect to see a decrease in hiring include accounting, banking, engineering, transportation, utilities, real estate and computer science and computer programming.

Geographically, the Eastern Seaboard continues to see job losses, with hiring down about 8 percent in middle Atlantic and Southeast states. From Texas west to California and northward along the West Coast, hiring is up. The college job market is down in the Upper Plains and Great Lakes region.

Ultimately, while many employers tell Gardner they hope to see the economy rebound, he said folks need to understand things will not return to “normal” – that is, a labor market in which college graduates have their pick of high-paying jobs. The recession, combined with increasing global competition, means graduates will continue competing for fewer jobs with lower salaries and benefits.

Kelley Bishop, MSU’s career services director, said it’s imperative that students get aggressive about their futures early in their college careers by networking with prospective employers, landing internships and developing critical thinking skills. He said this cuts across all majors – from engineering to liberal arts – because employers are worrying less about a student’s major and more about whether they can solve problems and think outside the box. “The premium is being placed on flexibility and adaptability,” Bishop said, “because this change in the labor market looks like it’s permanent. And those who can quickly adapt are the ones who are going to survive through this and prosper through this.”

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