Archive for Monday, May 20, 2002

Educational recycling

May 20, 2002

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Firms are clearly the buyers, and college graduates the uneasy sellers this spring.

A good many 2002 college graduates are caught in the squeeze that occurs in a drastic shift from a seller's to a buyer's market as they search for new jobs.

Not long ago, college graduates often had three or more choices for jobs. They found businesses and corporations fighting over their talents and services and often could write their own tickets when it came to salaries, benefits and perks. Long-term commitment by an employer was not too vital to many potential job-jumpers.

"Forget the lattes, massage therapists, foosball tables, rock-climbing walls," advises Eileen Ambrose of the Baltimore Sun. "Today's college graduate is interested in something more traditional from an employer  job security."

"Money is the No. 1 topic, but I would say job security has moved from completely off the map to No. 2," says Brian Krueger, president of CollegeGrad.com, an entry-level job site on the Web. "It's huge," agrees Adrienne Alberts, interim director of Johns Hopkins University's career center.

Not only do graduates now want a job but they want to know the prospects of keeping it in a market that has been greatly altered in the past year, most notably by the Sept. 11 atrocities.

"Students want to know they will be in a position they can count on," says Alberts of Johns Hopkins. "They saw their friends get job offers who have had to come back to look for other offers because their offers were rescinded."

It is agreed that 2002 graduates are entering the worst job market since the 1991 recession. Adding to the concern is that, until recently, many companies continued to pursue graduates with offers of high salaries, stock options and signing bonuses, somewhat like professional athletes.

Companies say they expect to reduce job offers to college graduates by 36 percent this year; for many fields, salaries and benefits will be lower.

Along with lowered personnel levels for many firms, current graduates must compete with experienced workers who have been laid off due to the recession and company downsizing. Then there are 2001 graduates who still may not have found jobs.

Competition for jobs for college graduates has not been so fierce for at least 10 years. This is a far cry from that "golden age" when the graduates often were the demanding sellers and the hirers the patronizing buyers. Many a graduate in recent times took a job "for the time being" with the notion he or she might be moving on to the first good counter-offer. Job security was not foremost in their minds, because they knew there could be so many choices.

Big shift now. The old "company store" doesn't look quite as bad as it once did. Rejection notices have piled up in some mailboxes. The first concern now is just getting a job. Then the focus shifts to how long it will last and what might be the prospects for advancement.

This is not the best spring for work-oriented people to be getting college diplomas. The pendulum has swung quite far in favor of hirers after being so long in the arc of the hirees. How long it will take to even things up a bit is a question many people  especially those who are seeking work  are asking.

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