A Slow Recovery
The recession is over, but alumni face an uphill challenge in
the job market
By Kate Hunger
Terence Bell isn't set to graduate until fall 2011, but he was scoping out the scene at a recent campus job fair in hopes of securing an internship. Taking the long view is all part of his plan to land a job in the construction and development field, and the Houston economics and real estate finance major was smiling as he surveyed the crowd.
"I love the energy in here," he said of the packed University Center Ballroom. "Everyone has their 'Go get it' mentality."
Bell counts his participation in the Honors College among the features of his résumé that will help him stand out during his job search. "I've done as many things as I can to distinguish myself," he said. "Me personally, I'm not worried."
And yet, Bell's college years began during the worst economic recession in decades. The National Bureau of Economic Research announced in September that the 18-month-long recession officially ended in June 2009. Recovery is indeed underway, said Ken Weiher, chair of the economics department at UTSA. But it may be a while before the effects are felt.
"We could be five years out before we get back to the unemployment rate we had before the recession began," he said. The economy has been slowly expanding for more than a year, but just when it will kick into a higher gear is unknown.
"People never know—they try to predict," Weiher said. "The hiring comes back after the first year or two. That first year or two of recovery is never as good as people would like. Positive signs pile up and it sort of snowballs."
Texas' unemployment rate was 8.2 percent in December. That was the 16th consecutive month that the rate has reached 8 percent or higher, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. In comparison, the U.S. unemployment rate was 9.4 percent in December.
New graduates are competing not only with each other, but also with laid-off workers and discouraged workers who had been waiting to reenter the job market once signs of a rallying economy appeared, Weiher said. Nationally, about 450,000 workers are laid off each week and file for unemployment for the first time, he said.
"You're competing with all these people and people who are quitting. … That's a lot of competition," he noted.
Because retirement funds took huge hits during the recession, baby boomers are not retiring as early, another factor alumni encounter in their employment pursuit. But Weiher offered a silver lining
"While thousands are being laid off at any given time," he said, "there are also thousands being hired."
Back to school
A weak job market often drives alumni to return to school, Weiher said. For those who have been debating that advanced degree, he said, the time might be perfect right now.
"That's the beauty of going to college," Weiher said. "Maybe this is the time to be adding value. Recessions do bring people back to school."
The Graduate School has seen a substantial increase in enrollment, said Lisa Palacios, director of recruitment and retention. Current students in master's programs seem to be buckling down with heavier loads, she said, and prospective students are eager to add an advanced degree to enhance their appeal to employers.
"My recruiters and I talk to a lot of prospective students who are worried about their job or are recently laid off or are new to San Antonio," Palacios said.
Applications to the Graduate School's doctoral programs have increased more than 50 percent from fall 2008 to fall 2010. Enrollment of doctoral students increased 20 percent from fall 2009 to fall 2010 and there was a 13 percent increase in enrollment of master's students.
Returning to school adds another bullet point to students' résumés, but it also allows them to flex their intellectual muscles and find new interests. Research shows that it's common for people to make multiple career changes throughout their lives. Baby boomers on average make about half a dozen. While it had appeared that their children would increase that number, the recession may have changed that trend, said Audrey Magnuson, interim director of the University Career Center. However, work-life balance remains a top priority for them, she added.
"The actual research indicates that our younger generation has slowed down in their thinking about changing jobs as frequently due to the recession," she said. "Whether that change in thinking is permanent remains to be seen."
What researchers do believe is that new college graduates are interested in two areas: job advancement and job stability.
"That does not mean it will make them stay [at a job], they are just easier to recruit," she said.
Utilize your resources
Challenging economic times often drive alumni and current students to the University Career Center, Magnuson said. She said she has seen an increase in the number of people using the center's services.
The center offers graduates tips on interviewing and networking, changing careers and résumé writing. Alumni can meet with career counselors, as well as post their résumés and search for job postings. Career assessments are available for those looking to find their perfect career.
Those who work hard at finding a job can usually find one, Magnuson said, although finding higher paying jobs often takes longer.
"We find that a lot of [alumni] come back to the Career Center because they've been laid off," she said. "We can get them working usually in three to six months, but what they put in, they get out."
Another way to increase job options is to broaden the geographic area of a job search and be willing to relocate, she added. Returning to your hometown may be possible in a few years.
It is important to remember that even now, employers are hiring, Weiher said. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) estimates that employers will hire 13.5 percent more college graduates in 2011 than in 2010.
What are they looking for? Engineering and science graduates are in demand "because they are hard to find," Magnuson said. UTSA's student population also makes the school attractive to employers seeking diversity among job candidates.
A survey by NACE found that students' choice of academic major was the biggest factor in determining which new college graduates received job offers prior to graduation. Students seeking bachelor's degrees in accounting, business, computer science, engineering and the social sciences were most likely to have employment offers before graduation. Accounting majors topped the list with almost 47 percent of students surveyed reporting a job offer in hand.
At the other end of the spectrum, fewer than 30 percent of new graduates with bachelor's degrees in education, English and foreign language reported job offers before graduation.
Monica Treviño graduated in spring 2009 and was back on campus this fall recruiting at the job fair for her employer, Medtronic. Two weeks after earning her biology degree, she began her new job as a diabetes therapy associate for the company. She found the career advice she received as a student paid off with a quick job hunt, and she encourages students to heed it.
To all alumni and students looking for work, "Use the resources [on campus]," she said. "They're a tremendous help."