Marlena Harris had a feeling it wouldn’t be easy to find work immediately after graduation. She wasn’t wrong.
Harris graduated from Augusta State University with a bachelor’s degree in kinesthesiology in December, and she expected it would be uphill work to find an entry-level position in her field. She wants to get her master’s degree eventually but thinks hands-on experience is a must before heading back to the classroom. She was born and raised in Augusta, and her job search has been just around the area so far, because moving for a job would take startup cash.
“It’s hard, without a steady source of income, to move to another location for work,” she said. Harris said friends who graduated with her are in the same boat.
Many college students will earn their diplomas in the next few months, but as they enter the working world, they’re facing a tough job market.
The national unemployment rate for ages 20-24 is above the rate for the entire population 16 and older, said Chris Cunningham, a statistician for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In February, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for ages 20-24 was 13.8 percent, compared with 8.3 percent for the overall workforce.
The unemployment rate for this group was as high as 17 percent in 2010, he said.
“The older age groups are actually faring a lot better in terms of unemployment,” Cunningham said. “The kids coming out of college are having a really difficult time getting hired because you have such a large pool of people looking for work. Typically, companies are going to go for the more experienced in these times.”
Still, the forecast isn’t all doom and gloom for college graduates. Employers responding to the Job Outlook 2012 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers said they plan to hire 9.5 percent more new graduates than they did in 2011.
“I think it’s going to be a little better than it was last year, but we’re still advising students to be very aggressive and consistent in their pursuit of looking for employment because it’s still very competitive,” said Julie Goley, the director of the Career Center at Augusta State University. “Locally, the interest in hiring graduates for degree-required or preferred full-time work is up slightly.”
ASU has seen about a 10 percent increase in postings for full-time degree positions over this time last year. Also, 69 percent of employers recruiting at ASU’s job fair last month were seeking prospects for full-time positions that required a degree, up from 62 percent in 2011, she said.
Goley said she is also starting to see an increase in paid internships.
“Typically, we see full-time degree recruiting start to pick up once the internships pick up, so that is a good sign,” Goley said.
Still, landing a job is going to take work on the student’s part, she said.
“We tell our graduates they are still looking at a nine- to 12-month search for something in field, and the more they are open to relocation, temp-to-perm opportunities and any short-term positions to build skill sets and a referral base, the more successful they are likely to be,” Goley said.
Science, technology, engineering and math are the fastest-growing areas where employers are hiring college graduates, said April Ewing, the director of Career Services at Paine College. She has noticed the most new internship opportunities are in business management. Students in the social sciences might have to leave the state for internship opportunities, she said.
“It’s known that students who do paid internships are the ones who get the jobs. Most of them are in the business field,” Ewing said. Ernst & Young has launched a big hiring campaign on college campuses, and Enterprise is also looking for people for its management training program, she said.
Jesse Arnold, a Paine College graduate earning his doctorate in the ministry, doesn’t want to rush into anything right after he graduates. He is taking his time to find a job, looking for a position he is prepared to invest himself in for a long period.
“I finally feel like I’m qualified, I feel confident in my skills, I feel marketable,” he said. “I want to go into a career, not a quick fix.”
He has built up a financial services business throughout college and graduate school, helping small businesses prepare taxes. This has enabled him to cast a wide net, biding his time until he finds a position he feels is a good fit. With a background in finance, education and counseling, he said, he isn’t stressing out too much about finding that perfect position.
“At least not yet,” he said with a smile.
In 2010, Augusta Tech’s total employment placement rate for students was 98.2 percent, according to the latest data from the Technical College System of Georgia. The placement rate for students in their field of study was 75.34 percent, said Brian Roberts, the director of student activities and support services.
Roberts said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the trend will continue for 2012 graduates. Most students complete their on-the-job practicum in their last semester, which potentially leads to employment. Most of the jobs available are in the local area, he said.
“Technical colleges, not only here in Augusta but across the state, we listen to economic developer,” Roberts said. “We listen to the needs, and that really shapes the programs offered at Augusta Technical College and other technical colleges across the state. From a practical standpoint, programs exist and thrive based on sending students into the workforce.
“If a program exists, but it’s not sending students into the workforce, then it’s not supporting our mission.”
The most popular programs at Augusta Tech remain in the health sciences. Welding and marketing management students also do well in the job market, he said.
“Most of our programs, there is no difficulty so far as placement,” Roberts said. “We are able to have some level of success because … we don’t flood the marketplace. We only have a certain number of on-the-job training practicum clinicals. We’re not going to flood a program if we can’t guarantee them a clinical slot in an area hospital or medical office. That’s really important.”
The associate degree in nuclear engineering technology at Augusta Tech is also popular, and the first class will graduate from the program this year. Those students will complete their internship at Plant Vogtle in June. Job prospects for students in the program are very positive, said Jo Anne Robinson, the dean of information engineering and technology at Augusta Tech.
Staff Writer Gracie Shepherd contributed to this article.