reWorking Michigan: Job market looks promising for new college grads

East Lansing, MI –

ReWorking Michigan examines our evolving economy, as the people of the Great Lakes State explore new ways to make a living and build a future.

Today, our reWorking Michigan Monday report looks at the prospects for new college graduates entering the workforce. An annual Michigan State University survey suggests the job market for graduates in many fields will be more stable than last year.

Hiring strong across degrees and fields

Every Michigan State University senior who's "walking" this weekend is aiming somewhere beyond the graduation stage, and it seems the market is walking to meet them. An annual study of recruiting trends by MSU's Collegiate Employment Research Institute finds more than 3,300 U.S. companies plan to hire more college graduates across all degree levels than they did last year.

The study's principal investigator, Phil Gardner, says this year the job market for college grads has "legs," a welcome change after nearly a decade of lackluster hiring.

"College hiring has been down and unsteady as the economy has gone up and down," Gardner says. "So there's big gaps in many of these companies' workforce, and so they're trying to plug those as they continue to go through changes."

Hiring is likely to be strong in many fields, from accounting to energy exploration. One of the most consistent sectors from year to year is engineering.

Garth Motschenbacher, the director of employer relations with MSU's College of Engineering, says in a down economy, new graduates often get one or two job offers after graduation. Motschenbacher says now grads can reasonably expect several offers, some of them from Michigan companies.

"The difference this year -- and we've actually seen it for the past 18 months -- is a trend to be able to stay in the Midwest and many times in the state, if they choose," says Motschenbacher.

"New economy" sectors lead the way

Motschenbacher says that's partly because the automotive and manufacturing sectors are starting to rebound, but also because of the growth of "new economy" opportunities.

"Health care and life sciences gets a lot of play, but here in Lansing, the big story is the IT world," Motschenbacher says.

That includes the software development company TechSmith in Okemos. It's one of about 300 IT companies in mid-Michigan.

Marketing director Brian Lesperance says theirs is a swiftly evolving industry. In the world of technology, it's a short hop from creation to obsolence. Lesperance says that's why bringing in new blood is a constant strategy.

"College graduates give you a good chance to do that," says Lesperance. "There's a lot of open-mindedness to trying out new things, to exploring new areas. So for us, it's been a really great way for us to add talent to our teams."

Adaptability is a must

Today's workers must be more adaptable than ever. Researcher Phil Gardner says when America had a more production-driven economy, recessions ended faster when companies simply made more of what consumers wanted to buy. But Gardner says this recession has forced companies to make some major overhauls.

"They're creating a new kind of professional that's going to take on multiple tasks across a couple of jobs in a new way to get more efficiencies in the workplace," says Gardner.

Kelly Burke will become one of those new professionals. She's a senior in mechanical engineering at MSU. On Friday, she'll join five other teammates to present their final semester project: a mock up of a 200-foot long art display board. She graduates on Saturday, and then she's off to Midland for a job with Dow Chemical. Burke had never worked with art students before, and she credits her success to a well-rounded curriculum.

"It's just my ability to implement all of the skills that I've gained during my college education, and I feel like that can transition well to the working force, specifically at Dow," Burke says.

Burke and four of her teammates have all landed jobs in Michigan. That's a reflection of the overall positive outlook for college graduates in the Great Lakes region, which expects to see double digit hiring. But the aftermath of the recession still lingers.

"This is a strong labor market in the sense it's broader and deeper, and so that's good," says MSU researcher Phil Gardner. "The bottom line is that there's still not enough jobs for everybody. So, the jobs are going to go to those people that stand out to employers as being ready and eager to work and thought through where they want to go."

Gardner says the pillars of the job market will be the big companies with at least four thousand employees, and the fast-growth firms that have pushed out of their startup phase. Graduates might have more trouble getting into mid-sized companies. Nationwide, they're expected to cut back on hiring in 2012.


reWorking Michigan
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