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Graduating in prosperous times

by Ronald Roach

When Ed Wrenn pursued a bachelor’s degree in computer information
systems at Florida A&M University, the young Boston-area native
kept an unwavering watch on the job market. During his time at FAMU,
Wrenn estimates that he had contact with nearly one hundred potential
employers about jobs after college. By fall 1997, his last semester at
FAMU. Wrenn had five job offers to consider.

“It’s an employee’s dream. There’s so many opportunities Out there,” he says.

Last March, the twenty-four-year-old began working as a developer
of Web-based news applications at the Lockheed Martin Corporation in
Gaithersburg, Maryland. Wrenn says he is pleased with his new job
because it allows him to use programming skills he honed while at FAMU.
He says the surging U.S. economy has many employers in hot pursuit of
talented college graduates.

“I was real selective about the companies I talked to. It’s difficult to not get a job these days.”

Wrenn’s story is not an Uncommon one among the thousands of college
graduates who are securing jobs in today’s dynamic economy. For the
past few years, plummeting unemployment rates have meant the nation’s
employers have expanded their companies with an abundance of new hires.
That’s good news for college students who at the beginning of the
decade faced uncertain job prospects in a recession-plagued national
economy.

Today’s college graduates now have more opportunities than ever
before, according to college counselors, employers, and public
officials. That also holds true for graduates of color — especially
those graduating with engineering, science, technology, business, and
management-related degrees.

“If you listen closely, the sound you hear across this country is
the sound of opportunity knocking. This is truly an opportunity economy
Our economy is strong. It is solid. And it continues to soar,” Alexis
Herman, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, proclaimed last
month while announcing May’s employment statistics.

In May, the national unemployment rate held steady at 4.3 percent
— an historic twenty-eight-year low, according to the Labor
Department. Overall, payroll employment rose by 296,000 in May, and job
growth surged strongly in engineering and management services, finance
and insurance, and health services.

A Particularly Positive Year

College and university career counselors are reporting that 1998
graduates experienced an exceptionally positive year. The numbers of
employment recruiters visiting campuses hit all-time highs at a number
of institutions the counselors say.

Delores Dean, associate director of the FAMU career center, says
representatives from more than 500 companies visited the Tallahassee,
Florida-based campus during the 1997-98 school year to collect resumes
and interview students. She estimates that students graduating with
degrees in engineering, computer science, and business received, on
average, three to ten job offers from prospective employers.

“The number of employers [coming to FAMU] is on the increase. The economy is pretty good,” Dean says.

Dean estimates that roughly 80 percent of 1998 graduates are
securing employment upon finishing school. The rest go on to graduate
school or the military. She says the university’s career center will
have helped between 85 and 95 percent of the students looking for jobs
secure a position.

“Most of the students are placed in jobs outside Florida.” Dean
says of graduates at the historically Black public institution.

At Tuskegee University, employers visited the historic Alabama
campus in record numbers, according to Sarah Stringer. director of the
Career Development and Placement Services Center.

“This year, members of the graduating class had excellent choices
for employment. It was the best year for our graduates in the last five
to ten years.” she says.

The labor market is good for college graduates, and industries such
as the previously slumping petroleum business have made such impressive
comebacks that they have begun recruiting aggressively for young
employees, according to Stringer.

She says more employers than ever paid visits to the campus. This
year, there were more than 400 employer visits to Tuskegee and 120
companies participated in a career fair. Additionally, Stringer says
that her office had to turn down requests from a number of employers
because there was not enough space at the career fair.

“Next year, we’ll have an increase in the numbers of employers
participating in the career fair. We will have enough room to
accommodate everyone,” Stringer says.

Receiving between five and ten job offers was not uncommon for many
Tuskegee students, according to Stringer. To compete with companies for
prospective employees, recruiters even offered signing bonuses and
relocation packages as enticements, she adds.

Joe Breeding, director of personnel at RMS Water Sales, N.A., a
subsidiary of the Schlumberger Limited conglomerate, says employers
such as his company are finding that in this booming economy, the
environment is becoming competitive when it comes to recruiting quality
young employees. His company, which manufactures and services water
meter equipment, recently hired two Tuskegee graduates — one into a
sales trainee program and the other as a cost accountant — as part of
the group of twenty it hires each year directly out of colleges from
around the nation.

“We recruit from Tuskegee because they graduate top-notch students
and they’re local,” says Breeding, who is based at his company’s main
plant in Tallahassee, Alabama, which is approximately fifteen miles
west of Tuskegee.

Breeding says his company tries to attract strong candidates based
on the appeal of the parent company’s resources. Schlumberger Limited,
which largely focuses on the petroleum services business. operates in
one hundred countries and had $11 billion in revenues in 1997,
according to Breeding.

“Most of our new hires are recent college graduates, and we try to advance them through the company,” he says.

Picture Not Completely Rosy

Marcia Harris, director of career services at the University of
North Carolina-Chapel Hill, cautions that while the job market is
stronger now than in previous years, it can be tough for recent college
graduates seeking work in certain liberal arts and social science
fields.

“For those seeking work in the nonprofit sector and in social
services, or who are unprepared, they may be feeling more frustrated
about job prospects,” Harris says.

She says students gravitating to social services are having to work
harder at finding positions because non-profits have fewer resources to
spend on recruiting. However, Harris notes that organizations like the
Peace Corps and Teach for America are highly popular with graduating
students and are attracting them in droves.

Labor experts say securing and retaining employment in today’s
economy requires more education and technical training than it has in
the past.

“Our workforce is … moving in a new direction. Back in the 1950s,
for example, the workforce was 20 percent professional, 60 percent
unskilled, and 20 percent skilled. Today, the workforce is still 20
percent professional, but there are new jobs that no one even imagined
twenty years ago. And the skilled-to-unskilled ratio has completely
reversed. The workforce today is 60 percent skilled and 20 percent
unskilled,” Labor Secretary Herman proclaimed in a recent speech.

“[I] asked the Bureau of Labor Statistics to begin issuing data as
a part of [the] monthly unemployment report that shows the correlation
between education and employment ….

“[The report] found that a high school dropout is four times more
likely to be unemployed than a college graduate. The message is clear:
education pays, and skills matter like never before,” said Herman.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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