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Class of 2013 is looking for jobs amid mixed prospects

Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Jeff Krage for Shaw Media)
Jobseekers participate in job fair Friday at Elgin Community College.

As he nears graduation day, Addison Merchut admits the here and now may not go down in history as an easy time for anyone, let alone a college graduate with limited work experience, to land a job.

But that is why he began doing not just homework, but legwork, months ago to give himself a fighting chance.

“There may be lots of jobs out there,” Merchut said. “But I’m shooting for something specific and trying not to settle.

“That’s why I’m working at this as hard as I can.”

This spring, Merchut, 26, of Geneva, is scheduled to graduate from Northern Illinois University with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

But specifically, Merchut – who in his younger days in Geneva was known as “Gordon” – said his studies have focused on achieving one goal: learning to design and build robotic appendages and control them remotely.

With a focus so tight, Merchut said he set his sights early this year on landing a full-time position that fully employs his accumulated skills, knowledge and experience.

To that end, Merchut set about networking, researching, interviewing prospective employers, marketing himself and getting to know the people that operate within his field.

And all of that work, he said, came before sending out a single, traditional job application or official letter of interest.

“Just looking for a job, it feels like a whole other college class, you know?” Merchut said. “But now I have all of these connections, and I feel like, with certainty, I will get that job.”

As Merchut and others in the Class of 2013 hit the job market in coming weeks, that kind of focus, determination and tenacity may be what is required to land a quality, career-oriented position.

Those who make a living monitoring employment trends tend to hold a mixed view of the job market for such graduates.

Recent research indicates that the employment marketplace remains historically tight.

In a report published in April, the Economic Policy Institute described the job market for younger workers as “dim.”

They noted that unemployment for college graduates remains historically high. In 2012, for instance, 8.8 percent of college graduates ages 21 to 24, without an advanced degree, were counted as unemployed. 

From the late 1980s to the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, that unemployment rate ranged from about 4 percent to 7 percent.

After the economic crash, the rate soared to more than 10 percent, the EPI report said.

Such factors, in turn, have hurt the earning abilities of college graduates, as the EPI report also noted that average earnings of young college graduates dropped 7.6 percent in that last 12 years. After adjusting for inflation, the real average hourly wage for young college graduates dropped from $18.14 in 2000 to $16.60 last year.

However, other research indicates that the job market may be brightening. 

A recent survey of U.S. employers by Careerbuilder.com revealed that 53 percent of those companies intend to hire college graduates from the Class of 2013, up from 46 percent as recently as 2011.

And 27 percent of the employers surveyed told Careerbuilder they intend to offer higher starting salaries than they did in 2012, with about half of employers planning to offer starting salaries of $30,000 to $50,000 annually.

Those working with local job seekers said they recognize both the positive and negative realities of the current job market.

Brandon Lagana, spokesman for the Northern Illinois w University Career Services department, said his department has worked with a growing number of employers from numerous sectors interested in recent college graduates holding degrees in various majors.

“The levels of activity are approaching levels we haven’t seen since 2007,” Lagana said. “There are companies looking for a variety of positions.

“You’d be surprised what they are.”

Craig Frank, president of Frank’s Employment in St. Charles, agreed, noting that hiring activity in the second half of 2012 hit levels “we have not seen in six years.”

However, college graduates about to hit the open market still should not expect an easy job search. Lagana and Frank said graduates should not only remain tenacious, but also flexible – if not in their choice of profession, at least in geography.

“If you’re looking to go back to your hometown, you may have a hard time,” Lagana said. “But if you’re open to traveling or relocating, you really open things up for yourself.”

Frank agreed, noting that college graduates also should not hold out too long before taking a job. He cited research indicating that job applicants with employment gaps of six months or more are experiencing the most difficult time landing jobs.

“The most important thing right now is to get out there and get working,” Frank said. “The last thing you want to do is to be sitting at home for months and months.”

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