Helping students cope in a weak job market

July 26, 2011 at 7:00 am | Posted in Job market | Leave a comment

Susan Sandberg

The Journal Sentinel recently reported on a UW-Madison graduate with a degree in biomedical engineering, who has moved back home and is working as a prep cook in a café. She did not do an internship. Her story is all too common. Here’s how the employment picture looks, according to the article, and what you can do to help your students:

  • Few signs of improvement:  While there have been some modest signs of improvement over the past few months, statistics show the employment situation for college graduates and other young adults remains difficult in the aftermath of the recession. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among 20- to 24-year-olds rose steadily from 8.2% in 2007 to 15.5% in 2010. It has improved slightly over the last few months, to 14.5% in June.
  • Lack of jobs:  “We’re suffering from this complete lack of job creation in the country,” said Andrew Sum, a professor and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. Employers haven’t been searching out new employees because they don’t need them, Sum said. “A lot of older workers have stayed on, and quit rates are down,” he said. While 74% of new college graduates say they have jobs, only 65% of those employed say their job requires a college degree, Sum said.
  • The right major and top grades:  The type of degree makes a difference. Experts say students who majored in engineering, health, business, and computer science are tending to fare better in the job search. Carolyn Heinrich, director of the La Follette School of Public Affairs at UW-Madison, said government agencies have been tentative, and while her top students are still getting hired, the second tier of well-qualified students is having trouble finding work.
  • Internships:  One move that enhances a college student’s chance of finding a job after graduation is getting an internship – particularly a paid internship, said Edwin Koc, director of strategic and foundation research at the National Association of Colleges and Employers. In 2011, Koc said, 60% of paid interns working with for-profit companies received job offers compared with 38% of people with unpaid internships, according to the organization’s 2011 Student Survey. Students should start looking for fall internships now. has nearly 48,000 internships listed in over 21,000 companies in more than 1,800 U.S. cities.
  • Recommendation letters / professional portfolio:  Remind your students who are interning this summer to obtain letters of recommendation from their supervisors as well as from any other staff members with whom they worked. These letters should be on company letterhead. Also, students should collect materials from every project on which they worked to build a professional portfolio. If students wait until after their internships are over, they might find it difficult to get the proper documentation that will help them secure future internships and jobs.

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