(Kenneth C. Zirkel/iStock)

 

Robert J. LaBombard, the CEO for GradStaff, Inc., says graduates miss out on opportunities because smaller companies don’t have the resources to recruit on campus, and college career counseling hasn’t kept up with an evolving job market. His company provides a college recruiting program to help hiring companies fill entry-level positions. Here’s his take:

Colleges Must Adapt to Changing Entry-Level Job Market

Lauren and Matt graduated from college in December 2013. Both had marketable degrees – Lauren in marketing and Matt in business management. Lauren started a job right after graduating, but it wasn’t the right fit and [she] was back in the job market after a few months. Matt was active in his job search before and after graduating, but struggled to get interviews and find the right fit.

By June 2014 they were frustrated and discouraged. Ultimately, both sought outside expertise and, with the right guidance, landed management trainee positions with a medium-sized firm specializing in technology and healthcare equipment financing. Lauren and Matt love their jobs and readily admit they never would have found this opportunity on their own – or through their respective colleges.

With only 17 percent of May 2014 grads having jobs at graduation last year, the experiences of Lauren and Matt are not isolated examples. With more than 4 of 5 new grads leaving college without a job, their experience is the norm for the vast majority of new grads.

Yet, after five years of recovery, our economy is finally growing and companies are hiring. With baby boomers rapidly retiring, demographics in their favor, and companies thirsting for technology skills, the market for new college grads should be booming. Unfortunately, the reality says otherwise.

The problem is that the entry-level job market has changed, but colleges have not adapted.

Large employers still dominate on-campus recruiting, but conversations with career services professionals and HR executives indicate that on-campus recruiting, aided by technology, is now very targeted and primarily focused on STEM grads or those liberal arts majors in the top 10 percent of their classes.

However, small and medium employers – not large companies – are driving job growth. According to ADP’s monthly employment reports, nearly 75 percent of new jobs filled in 2014 have been with companies of 500 employees or less. Unfortunately, due to the cost of on-campus recruiting, these employers don’t interview on campus.

My company hired more than 1,000 college grads in 2014. As part of our interview process, candidates completed a questionnaire to help us understand their career interests and what they have experienced in their job search to date. Only 20 percent of our applicants used their career services department “very often” and more than 40 percent said they used career services “rarely” or “never.” Additionally, 65 percent identified “not knowing what jobs are a fit” as a significant obstacle in their job searches.

What does all this data mean? For one thing, the average new grad job seeker is not engaging career services for assistance. Further, because a large majority of candidates don’t know which jobs fit their skills, their job searches are unfocused and not strategic. As a consequence, the results are poor and we are left with a very inefficient market – qualified job seekers and hiring companies that can’t find each other.

Colleges have not kept pace with changes in the new grad job market, and many graduating seniors are woefully unprepared to find a job. Now is the time to look at the role and mission of career services on the college campus. Are students and new grads getting their money’s worth?

The historic career services model is one of providing career and job search guidance to students, with a secondary goal of assisting employers who want to recruit at the college. This passive approach places the responsibility for finding a job exclusively on the student or grad. Colleges should be doing a lot more to help, and here are some suggestions:

– Colleges should provide career counseling and job search training starting on day one. Finding a job is a lifelong skill that most of us will use eight times or more during our careers. Each student should be required to complete coursework providing education on the job market, where specific majors can be applied in the workforce, how to identify one’s transferrable skills, how to construct a résumé, how to interview, how to network, etc.

– Staff career services with professionals who know something about the job market. The mission of career services must change to meet the needs of job seekers. Not only should the career services function provide career coaching and guidance, but it also should hire people with practical job market expertise who are experienced in connecting job seekers and hiring companies.

– Improve outreach to the small/medium employer market. These are the companies creating jobs. Use virtual career fairs and video interviewing technology to schedule interview days for employers. Enlist alumni to assist, as many will be working for small and medium employers.

– Create internship opportunities for undergrads. Internships significantly improve the marketability of new grads. According to new data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, those having a professional internship have a much better chance of having a job when they graduate. More internships need to be created and colleges should be more aggressive in working with employers to create them.

– Evaluate colleges based on published job placement statistics. Few colleges publish truly helpful job placement statistics. Each year, colleges should quantify the number of grads going to grad school, the number employed in professional positions using their degrees and the number unemployed or underemployed. The competition will be good for everyone.

– Be open to innovative third party intermediaries who know how to connect new grads and hiring companies. While some type of vetting process should be employed, there are firms with significant expertise in helping new grads figure out where they fit in the work force, identify important transferable skills, and identify potential employers. Some colleges may even want to completely outsource the career services function to experts in job placement.

Colleges must respond with more innovative ways to bring these two parties together. With the right strategies, colleges can play an important role in making the market for new college grads much more efficient.

Lauren and Matt show that success is attainable when the right coaching and guidance is provided.