Alan Schonberg says he's no Pollyanna. His upbeat reading of the middle-management job market amid the economic aftershock of last month's quake on Wall Street, he says, is statistically sound. Despite rumors and horror stories to the contrary, he claims there are more job vacancies today in that segment of corporate America than there are qualified candidates to fill them.

"We've got assignments coming out of our ears," says Schonberg, cofounder and president of the Cleveland-based Management Recruiters International Inc. (MRI), one of the nation's largest management search-and-recruitment firms, with 470 branch offices nationwide.

"The demand for middle management and professional people has never been so strong as it is exactly and precisely right now," says Schonberg more than two weeks after the stock market mishap.

Schonberg is a pioneer of executive headhunting. In the business more than 22 years, he was among the first to buy into the concept of "employer-paid fees" at a time when most job applicants still paid their own fee to employment agencies. He is the father of a fail-safe concept called the "contingency search" -- where companies pay a recruiting agency's fee only after a job candidate has been hired. And he plans to push once again to the leading edge of his industry next year when he defies cultural norms and introduces corporate headhunting to Japan -- a nation where the longtime employment institution of one company for life, he believes, is crumbling.

Meanwhile, Schonberg fights against the widespread perception that middle management in America is crumbling. "That is not supported by the facts," he says, blaming the misperception on high-visibility companies that have undergone buyouts, takeovers or acquisition and downsized their white-collar staff.

Schonberg prefers numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They indicate that the managerial and professional job market, which totals 28 million people and accounts for 24 percent of the work force, added 2.8 million new jobs in 1986 -- about 43 percent of all new jobs last year. Unemployment in that sector in 1986 and through September of this year has hovered between 2 percent and 2.4 percent.

"When you have a segment of the work force with a 2 percent unemployment rate," says Schonberg, "everyone who wants to work is working." He also is bullish on the management job market into the future, pointing out that the number of college grads -- traditionally a source of prospective middle-managers -- is declining.

"The supply line going into this segment of the market is spewing forth fewer and fewer bodies while the demand continues to go up," says Schonberg, adding that currently the rate of job openings in middle management is twice that of the general job market. " ... over the remainder of this century, there are going to be more and more new middle-management jobs and fewer and fewer players."

But what of the effect of a suddenly shaky economy on that prediction? "Who knows?" Schonberg says. "So far nothing has changed."

Down on the Farm? Agricultural programs at America's universities are facing a serious decline in enrollment. On the heels of the nation's farm crisis that, through most of the '80s, has seen many independent farmers go broke, few students are choosing a college curriculum that offers little hope for a good harvest after graduation.

But the irony, says Robert Thompson, dean of Purdue University's School of Agriculture, is that career opportunities in agriculture have never been better or more varied.

"By the time a current high-school junior gets out of college in 1993, we should be back to the boom time in agriculture," says Thompson, who was raised on an upstate New York dairy farm. He also is the former assistant secretary for economics at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has served as a staff economist for the President's Council of Economic Advisers. "The agriculture job market has already strengthened."

The big misperception, says Thompson, is that "ag students" become farmers. Only about one in eight of Purdue's agriculture grads takes up traditional farming. Characteristic of the field this decade are job openings in high-tech fields such as biotechnology, the food sciences and genetic engineering -- what Thompson calls "the Golden Age of Biological Sciences."

He reports that companies visiting Purdue's campus last spring to recruit at the School of Agriculture outnumbered seniors 3-1, and were offering salaries in the $30,000 range. Eighty-one percent of Purdue's 360 agriculture grads receiving BA degrees last spring had jobs waiting for them.