OWATONNA — Less than a month from now, after area schools will graduate more than 2,000 high school students, many of those students will head off to college with hopes of eventually acquiring their dream job.
A recent study done by Northeastern University researchers — supplemented by material from Paul Harrington, an economist at Drexel University, as well as the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank — say the dream may be fading more many of this year’s college graduates, with the outlook not looking much brighter four years from now.
The study stated that 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent of bachelor’s degree holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest rate in 11 years. In 2000, the number was 41 percent.
According to government projections released this spring, only three out of 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor’s degree or higher to fill the position — teachers, college professors and accountants. Most expected 2020 job openings will be in field such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving — jobs that can’t be easily replaced by computers.
Students who majored in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities were among the least likely to find jobs appropriate to their educational background. Nursing, teaching, accounting and computer science are the most likely.
Matt Carlson, career exploration coordinator at Minnesota State University, Mankato, does agree that there is quite a bit of concern regarding career opportunities for recent high school and college graduates, but it’s not as dark as some may have you think.
“There have been some very difficult times over the past few years and no one has been immune from the recent economic difficulties in the world,” Carlson said. “At some point we have to decide how to approach the current job markets. Is your glass half full or half empty?
“In general, I am cautiously optimistic. The job market is slowly improving and changing. Current career and job seekers need to be focused and actively developing their career options by building on their strengths and emerging skills. Forecasting is very specific to the goals and objectives of each individual and should be approach very carefully.”
Jennifer Rogers, an employer relations specialist at St. Thomas, said her phone has been ringing with employers looking for college graduates, especially students skilled in computers.
“For me, I have felt the demand for computer jobs for the last 12 months,” Rogers said. “It’s really intensified over the last 10 months. There is just a really strong demand for graduates with a computer-related degree.”
Rogers said job openings in computer fields dropped significantly in 2008-2009 as the United States’ economy battled the darkest days of the so-called Great Recession. Once recession fears slowed, employers started looking for college graduates who work on computers, whether in informational technology or software development.
“The general IT careers are really making a lot of noise,” she said.
Rogers added engineering jobs are right behind computer-related jobs, when it comes to demand. Over the past couple of years, engineering firms are having trouble filling open spots, said Rogers.
“Engineers are in demand,” she said. “Certain specialties of engineering have had a hard time finding people with the right skill set.”
That’s good news for Owatonna High School senior Jeremy Zimmermann, who plans to study computer engineering technology at MSU, Mankato.
“It’s more reassuring that it’s a good field with good career opportunities, but I’m really going into it because it’s what I love,” said Zimmerman, who’s currently doing a mentorship program with Viracon process engineer Steve Strusz.
Zimmermann added that a “bunch” of his classmates are also going into some field of engineering.
More good news for Zimmermann is that students, high school or college, who have real world experience have a better shot at finding work after college in their related field.
Before Jackie Baker took over a career services director at Saint Mary’s, she helped students acquire internships, so she knows how helpful real-world experience can be to a recent college graduate scanning the want ads.
“I would definitely take control of my future early, as a freshman or sophomore,” Baker said. “Look up information, work on interview skills, establish a network of connections and get an internships.”
Traditionally, internships have been unpaid. Normally, students would only receive real world experience and possibly college credit. Baker did say that some internships will pay, especially in the fields of computer science and accounting.
Baker did make sure to say that even students with a college degree and a few internships on their resume may have trouble finding their “dream” job, at least right away.
“We recently polled our students (at Saint Mary’s) and the response is pretty enlightening. Most of our graduating students are leaving here with a job in hand or an acceptance into a graduate school. They may not be getting their dream job right away, but they may be getting the job that leads to their dream job.”
Rogers said two other positions that have always been searching for employees are sales and marketing jobs.
“Those are two careers that never died down, even during the recession,” Rogers said. “My phone didn’t ring much during the recession, but when it did, it was for sales and marketing jobs.”
Rogers has read the reports that many college graduates are not finding work or having to take jobs outside of their fields. She said she would like to know who is being interviewed.
“It depends on whom (the study) talked to,” Rogers said. “Did they speak with someone who put in time and effort and did all of the preparation. We’ve been hearing good things from our students. Employers have been calling and saying they have jobs.”
Baker said students who know exactly what they want to do when they graduate from high school seem to have the most success in finding work after college. College students who study more vague majors such as history or literature might have a harder time finding jobs.
“The majors that don’t prepare you for a specific job can be the toughest to find work,” Baker said. “Students need to be creative. They need to find out what their skills are, and then find a way to transfer those acquired skills into a profession.”
Regardless of what major a college freshman or sophomore picks, he or she will still be at the mercy of the United State’s economy. What’s a hot job field today might cool off tomorrow.
“Today’s boom is tomorrow’s bust, but highly skilled workers will always find employment,” Carlson said. “There are some trends which seem obvious to me — health, technology, and energy are common hot spots, but the world is shrinking and becoming more complex. This growing complexity makes it very difficult to simplify markets, yet everyone should become familiar with the trends related to their own career path.”
Derek Sullivan can be reached at 444-2372.