Published: Nov. 15, 2012

Job market sluggish for college grads

Contact(s): Andy Henion Media Communications office: (517) 355-3294 cell: (517) 281-6949 Andy.Henion@cabs.msu.edu, Phil Gardner Collegiate Employment Research Institute office: (517) 355-2211 cell: (517) 214-4138 gardnerp@msu.edu

The job market for new college graduates, hampered by a lackluster economy and political uncertainty, will increase at a sluggish 3 percent this academic year, predicts Michigan State University’s annual Recruiting Trends report.

“Despite the college labor market growing at about the same modest pace as last year, the feeling is different,” said report author Phil Gardner. “I do not see as much confidence among the nation’s employers going into the second half of the 2012-13 academic year.”

Gardner, director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute, collected hiring data from more than 2,000 U.S. employers, making Recruiting Trends – now in its 42nd year – the largest study of the college job market in the country.

Gardner said he’s never seen politics have such an effect on employers’ plans to hire.

“The presidential election looms large over this report because it has injected uncertainty into the equation at a basic level,” he said. “Employers are wondering: What if the economy tanks again now that the election is over?”

Other factors giving employers pause: The European financial crisis and the fight in Congress over how to avoid looming tax increases and spending cuts – the so-called “fiscal cliff”

But the “most troubling aspect” of the report is that college graduates continue to have a sense of entitlement and unrealistic salary expectations.

“This year’s seniors entered college at the beginning of the recession; they should know that salaries have not gone up at all and that internships are essential to landing a permanent position,” Gardner said. “Yet employers are concerned about the preparedness of college students entering the workplace, especially their lack of work experience in professional settings and their attitudes toward the work itself.”

Other details in the report:

  • Hiring for graduates with bachelor’s degrees is expected to increase 5 percent, down slightly from last year’s estimate. Business remains the most frequently requested major, while marketing, advertising, English, psychology and computer science are gaining ground. On the other hand, engineering and accounting at CPA firms are struggling after years of growth.
  • The market for MBA students will decline an estimated 6 percent – a surprise given the recent strong performance of this market segment. “It appears some employers are shifting positions from the MBA level to the bachelor’s level,” Gardner said.
  • Another surprise is the strong demand for graduates with associate’s degrees, which is up more than 30 percent and led by applied engineering, health care technology, business and computer science. Gardner said this finding mirrors other job reports that find associate’s degrees have been outpacing four-year degrees for the past several months.

For a look at a student perspective of the job market, see story and video here.

Dennis Miner, a 2010 graduate of MSU, interned for one year at Pfizer in Kalamazoo, which recruiters say is crucial to landing a good job. After searching for a job for three months, Miner is now working at a biopharmaceutical company in New York. Photo by G.L. Kohuth.

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