State's job outlook brighter for college graduates
The odds that recent college grads will find suitable jobs are improving as the economy slowly recovers, according to local college career offices and national data. On Wednesday, the state said the jobless rate edged down in April to 9.1 percent as the private sector added 8,300 jobs.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Joshua Green, an electrical-engineering major, has that rare prize among current college seniors — a job in his chosen field lined up after graduation.
The 30-year-old Seattle Pacific University student, who entered college after working several years as a furniture salesman, plans to join the biomedical-research firm where he's interned for more than year.
While many recent college grads are struggling to find suitable jobs, the odds are improving as the economy slowly recovers, according to local college career offices and national data.
On Wednesday, the state said the unemployment rate edged down in April to 9.1 percent, from 9.2 percent in March, as the private sector added 8,300 jobs, led by construction, manufacturing and business services.
The state recorded an increase of 41,500 jobs over April 2010.
At Seattle University's career-services office, "I haven't seen it be this active in years," Executive Director Gayatri Eassey said.
Nationally, employers say they plan to hire 19 percent more graduates this spring than they did a year ago, with many openings for engineering and accounting majors, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Two years ago, in the depths of the recession, employers said they planned to cut hiring by 22 percent over the prior year.
Best to be flexible
Even with the improving job market, "it's still really competitive," said Aaron Ignac, assistant director at Western Washington University's career-services center. "We're still counseling our students to be more flexible and broaden their expectations of what might work for them."
They're in good company: The median starting salary for students graduating from four-year colleges in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000, down from $30,000 for those who started working in 2006 and 2007, according to a study released Wednesday by Rutgers University's John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.
The survey of 571 college graduates from 2006 through 2010 found that fewer than one-third had their first job arranged before graduation. About 70 percent landed one within six months of graduation.
Andrea Davis-Gonzalez, 23, is among the many still searching — and more certain she'll have to take a job outside her chosen field: journalism.
She graduated a year ago from Western Washington University after interning at a local television station, and found openings for entry-level journalism jobs as rare as, say, office typewriters.
Many of her fellow grads have found work unrelated to their degree, Davis-Gonzalez said.
"You have to be more open because of the way the economy is now," she said.
And so she walked up to tables Wednesday at a small career fair at Seattle Center, introducing herself to recruiters from American Family Insurance, Honda of Seattle and the Emerald Queen Casino.
She said she should have been better prepared for the networking, résumé-building and salesmanship needed in today's job market. For now, she's living with her parents as she keeps looking for her first job.
Lewis Trotta, 27, also at the career fair, has an associate degree in computer-aided design but hasn't been able to find a permanent job in two years.
The Everett man, in a crisp white shirt, pressed pants and polished dress shoes, was at his third career fair in seven months.
He's been a telemarketer, janitor and food-service worker and scored two interviews for drafting jobs, but hasn't managed to land a position.
"People expect five years of experience," said Trotta, who doesn't have that but considers himself a fast learner. "I'm in survival mode right now. The first job I get, I'll take it."
Outlook grim for teens
Even as new college graduates hustle to find jobs, high-school students seeking summer work could face daunting odds.
Nationwide, 27 percent of teens are projected to have jobs during the months of June, July and August, according to Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies in Boston.
That's slightly better than last summer's 25.6 percent teen-employment rate — the lowest recorded since World War II.
Employment among the nation's nearly 17 million teens has plummeted in eight of the past 10 years, as they've had to compete with more jobless adults.
In this state, the Great Recession hammered job-seeking teenage males, said Dave Wallace, acting chief economist for the state Employment Security Department.
The jobless rate among 16- to 19-year-old males who sought work went from 20 percent in 2007 to 46 percent in 2010. Females in the same age group saw their jobless rate increase from 15 to 24 percent.
They're competing against adults with years of work experience: More than 307,700 people in Washington were unemployed and looking for work in April, according to Employment Security.
Under the broadest measure of joblessness, an average 18.4 percent of the labor force in the state was "underemployed" in the 12 months ending March 31, compared with 16.5 percent of workers nationwide.
Those estimates, from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, include workers in part-time jobs seeking full-time ones and "discouraged" workers who have looked for a job in the past year but not in the past month.
The turning point for Green, the Seattle Pacific senior, came in 2009.
He had quit selling furniture as the economy declined, started taking classes at Seattle Central Community College, and fancied himself a budding lawyer.
But all that changed after an assignment in an introductory circuits class.
With some ordinary electrical parts, Green and a classmate converted a Tic-Tac dispenser into a battery-less flashlight.
He shook the Tic-Tac dispenser. The light bulb flashed on.
"For me, that was kind of like an eye-opener," Green said. "You can actually build something cool."
The Wyoming native earned his associate degree in three years and won a National Science Foundation scholarship that allowed him to attend Seattle Pacific.
But he credits the sales and networking skills he learned in his first career for his landing a job before graduation.
"The biggest thing is networking," Green said. "If you know somebody who works at the company and they can give you a little helping hand, you kind of put yourself ahead of a lot of people."
Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.