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Job outlook brightens for Utah college grads

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It's not the "boom" times of the late 1990s, but the current job market for college graduates is showing "marked improvement" over recent years.

When the job climate was crackling with potential, businesses were competing with each other for graduates, according to Jim Robson, regional economist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

The past few years, however, haven't been as promising for grads. That's changed, if only a little, for this year.

"I don't know if I'd use the term rosy," Robson said. But times are better, with job growth in several areas.

In particular, Robson said the education and health-care industries appear to be the strongest for graduates. The leisure and hospitality sectors also show promise while business and construction continue to produce new jobs.

"The last two years were light," Robson said. "There were many more graduates out there hustling for jobs than there were positions available." This year, he added, most industries will be hiring.

Salt Lake Community College's Student Employment and Cooperative Education Services has more than 150 current job postings, double those of last year.

"The job outlook is fairly positive," said student employment director Jack Hesleph. A recent job fair held by students at SLCC drew 87 employers.

SLCC has more than 40 openings posted for business and accounting alone. Criminal justice has 11 openings listed at SLCC, and computer information system has 15 positions. Automobile mechanics and collision and repair technicians — areas that require associate's degrees — also have several openings.

The average starting salary for SLCC graduates is around $8 to $8.50 per hour. Those completing degrees at SLCC in visual arts and design programs can expect closer to $10 per hour starting salary.

The number of jobs listed, Hesleph said, is only an indicator that there are plenty more out there. Hesleph's offices also help put SLCC students in about 70 percent of the postings while offering students free help in resume writing and job interview skills.

At the University of Utah, director of career services Stan Inman said engineering and computer science continue to provide jobs for graduates. "Those are always going to be good fields," he said.

A recent two-day job fair brought in around 100 employers who came actually looking to hire graduates rather than speculate on whether they might hire interested students, Inman said.

The best opportunities, Inman added, usually go to students who are "proactive" and worked at internships beginning as early as their sophomore year. That allows an employer to examine a graduate's work ethic and what kind of skills they bring to the table.

"That's a terrific way for an employer and a student to see each other," Inman said. Also, the earlier a student begins a job search the better.

When the U. did its annual survey of graduates in May 2003, it found that about 35 percent already had jobs lined up. More of the same is expected in a few weeks. Four-year degrees, at least in most business-related fields, tend to yield starting salaries of between $30,000 and $40,000, according to U. figures.

What's happening in Utah appears to follow national trends, Inman said.

In fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employers' Job Outlook 2004 Spring Update report released this month shows that member employers expect to hire 11.2 percent more new college hires this year than from the 2002-03 crop of graduates.

The highest hiring expectations, according to the report, are in the Northeast, followed by the South, West and then Midwest. A survey of 973 employer members — 209 responded — showed the Western region with an overall 8.3 percent gain in new hires over last year.

Job fairs and on-campus hiring, the report shows, account for 78.7 percent of the employer recruiting plans for 2004. Another 8 percent of employers said they either are not hiring 2003-04 graduates or that they're on campus only to maintain a presence, and 9.2 percent said they met their hiring goals in 2003.

E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com