Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

Recent college graduates feeling the pinch of underemployment

By Madeleine Brown, Deseret News

Published: Sat, April 26 8:20 p.m. MDT

 Preston Rutter talks with Ryan Gilkey, from Clearwater, at a job fair in the Wilkinson Center Ballroom at Brigham Young University in Provo on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013.

Preston Rutter talks with Ryan Gilkey, from Clearwater, at a job fair in the Wilkinson Center Ballroom at Brigham Young University in Provo on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013.

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Brandi Hillock of Murray graduated from Southern Utah University in May 2013 with a degree in exercise science. She couldn't find a job related to her field of study and now a year later, doesn't feel like her degree gave her an advantage.

"It’s frustrating because I have colleagues that didn’t go to school at all, and then here I am making the same wage that they do, and I spent four years and all my money to get this degree, and I’m not seeing anything from my efforts," said Hillock, who is working for a mortgage company before she heads to graduate school.

It's the same story for her peers with degrees in other disciplines, and for spring college graduates transitioning into the labor market: The prospect of unemployment or underemployment is a reality for many.

During the past two decades, the unemployment rate for recent graduates peaked at about 7 percent in 2010, when the rate for all college graduates rose to about 5 percent, according to 2014 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York

"It is not clear whether these trends represent a structural change in the labor market, or if they are a consequence of the two recessions and jobless recoveries in the first decade of the 2000s," the report states.

It applies less to the fields of science, technology and engineering, as people in those professions are more likely to find good jobs, according to Sean Weinle of Sandy.

Weinle graduated in December but had a job related to information systems even before that. Now he's working as a software consultant for an accounting firm.

"Definitely people in my field are having success, but I know others have struggled finding jobs in other fields," Weinle said. "Everybody really needs IT and computer professionals nowadays in every business, so there's a lot of jobs for that."

It's always been the case that engineers and accountants seem to have an easier way into careers, agreed Scott Greenhalgh, manager of Alumni Career Services for Brigham Young University. He said only about 17 percent of people take a job related to what they studied in school.

That said, he still thinks students should study what they're passionate about and not major in something they don't like, just for the money. However, college students should also find a career focus and take courses that will prepare them to succeed. Greenhalgh pointed out that many CEOs studied humanities or the social sciences.

"People are worried about the marketability of their degree instead of the marketability of themselves. Decide what you want to do and market yourself," he said.

Greenalgh, who has held the post at BYU for 27 years, said the problem with finding a job is that everything is online now.

"It makes it easier to apply, but then it seems to make it easier for companies to ignore people as well," he said. "Students aren't doing enough to follow through. … Now networking is even more important."

Colleges and universities have career counselors for current students and for alumni. Resources, workshops, resume help and hiring events are also available through LDS Employment Resource Services and the Utah Department of Workforce Services, which has an employment center in almost every county.

Graduates are entering an economy that's still fragile and hasn't recovered to prerecession levels. An increase in low-paying and part-time jobs is typical of a recession, according to Carrie Mayne, chief economist for the Department of Workforce Services.

Also, about 70 percent of 2012 graduates finished school with student loan debt, and the average amount owed was $29,400. More people are earning bachelor’s degrees, so there’s more competition for those jobs as well, Mayne noted.

About 260,000 people held a bachelor's degree and worked a federal minimum wage job in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number is down from 2010 but still more than double the number in 2005.

Unemployment rates in Utah as of December 2013 show that education attainment makes a difference. According to Mayne, the rate for adults with less than a high school diploma is 4.6 percent, 4.5 percent for those with a diploma but no college, 3.3 percent for those with some college or an associate degree and 2.4 percent for those with at least a bachelor’s degree.

However, Mayne pointed out that the statistics don’t reveal underemployment — whether jobs are on par with workers' degrees or skill level.

According to a 2012 survey by The Chronicle and American Public Media's Marketplace, 39 percent of employees value a bachelor's degree the same as five years ago. And 25 percent said they value it more, and 8 percent value it a lot more.

Employers also reported they struggle to find recent college graduates who are qualified for the job because they lack communication skills, can't adapt well and don't know how to think and solve complex problems.

While a degree is often required for a resume to even have a chance for consideration, the study said, simply having a four-year degree isn't enough, and there's a widening gap between what employers want and what colleges produce.

The study said, however, that "the relatively high unemployment experienced by recent college graduates should not prompt us to dismiss the value of a college education in helping young workers find jobs."

Sharon Hutchinson of Lehi graduated from BYU in 2012 and still hasn't been able to secure a full-time teaching job to utilize her degree in social studies teaching.

"Being a recent graduate, having little experience compared to other applicants who had more experience, I wasn’t even given interviews," Hutchinson said.

She’s worked as a substitute teacher and a teacher's aide, and now she is a teacher's assistant at an alternative high school — a position that doesn't require a degree. While she enjoys her work, Hutchinson still checks for new openings a couple of times a week and has considered jobs unrelated to her field.

"Obviously you don't get a teaching degree hoping you'll be a teacher's assistant forever, so I'm looking still," she said.

Email: madbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: Madeleine6

Recommended
1. Ironmomo
Ogden, UT,
April 23, 2014

Don't worry The President and his inept administration will take care of everything. He prefers that college graduates be unemployed, live with their parents til their 40 and receive government aid to survive. More votes for the democrats

2. I know it. I Live it. I Love it.
Provo, UT,
April 23, 2014

Fact 1 = College is an investment.
Fact 2 = College for many creates a massive debt.
Fact 2 = Colleges do a horrible job at teaching people how to sell their skills & find work.

Ergo: college is a bad career investment.

/////

In reality, college is great... but only at certain things:

1 = It is an avenue to learn for those who need to learn
2 = It is an avenue to get licensed for those who need to
3 = It puts a plaque on the wall that says "I supposedly know what I'm doing"

/////

If I was paying for someone's services, I don't want a certificate. I want someone who ACTUALLY knows what they are doing. I might consider which school someone attended, but I'm far more impressed with someone who learned the same level of skills outside school because that proves not only determination, but that they have the skill to research, learn, and determine what's useful.

I'm not anti school. But the way to employment isn't a certificate. It's knowing how to market your skills. People can get the skills however they want. But marketing yourself isn't something you learn in a classroom.

3. mjkkjk
Nowhere, 00,
April 23, 2014

"Employers also reported they struggle to find recent college graduates who are qualified for the job because they lack communication skills, can't adapt well and don't know how to think and solve complex problems."

ATTN current college students: Next time you want to gripe to your professor that she or he is making you do something on an exam that wasn't explicitly taught to you in "memorizable" form, please remember this paragraph above.

I teach information systems at the university level and I intentionally give students exam problems they've never seen before (i.e. unstructured, complex problems), but can easily be solve by applying the concepts they have learned in a new and creative way. I also accept many forms of correct answers in order to encourage them to be creative. However, I get endless complaints from students that this isn't fair and "how can I answer this if you haven't showed me exactly how to do it so I can memorize it for the exam?"

It's interesting; I can tell you with remarkable accuracy which of my students will pick up great jobs and it has VERY little to do with GPA.

4. BYUalum
South Jordan, UT,
April 23, 2014

I am sometimes amazed to hear what students' majors are in school. Do they even check the job market to see what jobs are available in those fields? I see a major push in schools now in Math, Science, technology, and writing skills to help students compete in the market place.

5. I know it. I Live it. I Love it.
Provo, UT,
April 23, 2014

"marketing yourself isn't something you learn in a classroom."

I want to add one more point. Even if schools start teaching you how to market yourself, there is something to consider. If a large group of students learn from a professor- "here's how to market yourself", what will happen? They'll all go out and do it. The first thing I'd notice is 30 people with business cards, websites, internships, etc. They all have an identical resume. I'll either start looking for what stands out in that group, or I'll start looking outside the group to find what I want.

Again, school isn't bad. Some schools even teach this better than others. But if you're struggling to find work either 1) there isn't work in that field or 2) you aren't innovating your marketable self very well. In my experience, the latter is more common. There is always someone willing to pay for a skill/service. It's all about knowing where to look, how to stand out, and how to sell what you offer. If you aren't doing that, why would you expect results? Money doesn't fall off trees.