July 4, 2024
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Tough job market for grads


As if four years of college wasn’t tough enough, this year’sgraduating seniors are facing something perhaps harder than calculus and morenerve-racking than public speaking: finding a job.

Many area companies are putting the brakes on new hiresuntil the economy improves, and career experts say the worst is yet to come forthe graduates in 2009 and 2010.

“This particular year, obviously, the economy is strugglingand we’re currently not really in a hiring position; we’re kind of hunkeringdown until the economy begins to pick up again,” said Danny Wynn, president ofengineering firm Penfield & Smith, which has offices in Santa Barbara,Camarillo and Santa Maria.

At the start of 2008, employers planned to hire 16 percentmore new college graduates this year than last year, according to Job Outlook2008. However, Martin Shibata, the director of Career Services at CaliforniaPolytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, said they have lowered theirestimates in half to 8 percent because of an uneasy economy.

“It’s not like they are not hiring students,” Shibata said.“Just like the last time we hit hard times in 2000, it really took about twoyears at least before it affected the job market. Right now, confidence is downso employers are being a little more careful, but they are still hiring.”

The graduates most in demand, according to Job Outlook 2008,are accounting, mechanical and electrical engineering, and computer science.

Both Cal Poly and the University of California, Santa Barbara,said their career fairs filled up far in advance this year and the universitieshad to turn away companies from lack of space. Shibata said this might be moreof an indication that companies prefer career fairs to other recruitmentmethods in today’s market.

At San Luis Obispo-based Blakeslee & Blakeslee, thefinancial planning firm says it still routinely looks to hire collegegraduates, particularly interns it finds from Cal Poly.

“As a matter of fact, we have one [Cal Poly graduate] that’sbeen with us for several years,” said Diane Blakeslee, founder and senior vicepresident of the firm. “He came as an intern and he’s now one of the majorcertified financial planners in our firm.”

However, she said, Blakeslee & Blakeslee only hires suchrecent graduates every couple years, and three of the company’s 14 employeesare in their 20s, Blakeslee estimated.

In a slipping job market, latching onto internships likethose at Blakeslee & Blakeslee is one of the best ways to wriggle into acompany that isn’t hiring many new employees. Matt Taylor, who graduated fromCal Poly in March with a bachelor’s in business, said he landed his job at CBRichard Ellis in San Francisco thanks to an internship he’d had with thecompany.

“That’s what kind of got my footin the door,” Taylor said of the internship. During his job hunt, he noticedfewer jobs available than in previous years, and pointed to the economy as themain reason.

“We’re not in a recession yet, butthere are hints that there’s a recession coming and they just can’t hire manynew people,” he said.

Recently released statistics byCal Poly indicate graduates are having a tougher time finding jobs aftercollege. For seniors who graduated in 2007, 65 percent reported being employedfull time after graduating and another 20 percent went on to graduate school.But compare that to 2005 when 73 percent of graduates had full-time jobs withina year and 21 percent went onto graduate school.

Shibata said as the job marketsoftens, he expects more undergraduates will skip the hassle of finding a joband opt instead for graduate school.

Don Lubach, associate director ofcareer services at UCSB, painted a slightly different picture of the jobmarket, however.

“At the recent moment, it has been wildly good for seniors,but I say that with a little bit of a hesitation,” Lubach said. It’s good, hesaid, because as baby boomers retire, companies are looking to collegegraduates to fill the empty spots.

“I think that employers are finding a need to fill positionsand what better place to go to find super bright, brand new employees for athird of the price of their employees than the local colleges? They’re doingbargain buying by hiring recent college grads,” Lubach said.

With 19 million baby boomers getting ready to retire in thenext three years, it could mean a needed windfall for college graduates in thejob market. However, some baby boomers are holding off retiring until themarket improves. One poll by the National Association of Professional EmployerOrganizations found 37 percent of older workers in the small business sectorare delaying retirement.

Moreover, in a weaker economy, employees tend to stick withtheir jobs longer, meaning less become available – and the applicant poolgrows.

“When the economy is booming, there are more … people movingthrough jobs. When the economy is soft, people tend to hang onto their job andnot move,” said Randy Kinsling, chairman of the board at TWIW InsuranceServices. His firm, which has offices in Santa Maria and Ventura, has sloweddown its hires to just refill vacant slots. And when those positions becomeavailable, a “significantly bigger” group of applicants comes forward, Kinslingsaid.

Firestone Walker Brewing Co. in Paso Robles has experiencedthe same wave in applicant numbers “not only from people that have graduatedbut just people out in the workforce that are wanting to change jobs,” saidMarketing Manager Jaime C. Smith. Like TWIW, Smith agreed that Firestone hasmostly been refilling vacant positions, but it isn’t afraid to look at recentcollege graduates for the jobs. He said of the 40 total employees, 15 to 20percent are younger than age 30.

As for college seniors still hunting for jobs, activelypursuing leads is a must.

“At this point, they have to be proactive in terms ofnetworking as much as possible – and they need to start early,” Shibata said.