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College Job Market Will Continue Its Decade-Long Growth

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Amidst fears of a recession, the job market is strong for college graduates for the 10th consecutive year, according to Michigan State University's "Recruiting Trends 2019-2020" report, the largest annual survey of employers in the United States.

Job opportunities are expected to expand by 12% across all degrees in 2019-20, says Phil Gardner, survey author and director of MSU's Collegiate Employment Research Institute.

"I thought there would be a little more caution in the labor markets," he says. "It seems employers were a little more confident this year than I had expected. That's likely because the economy hasn't really caught up with them, so employers are hiring, particularly at the associate's and bachelor's level."

This year's report found employers plan to hire nearly 63,555 new graduates — about 71% with bachelor's degree and 15% with associate's degrees. However, employers plan to reduce hiring for master's degrees.  

Recruiting Trends 2019-20 summarizes data from 2,800 employers from every major industrial sector in every state. Among industries, educational services and health care are key to recent job growth.

Three percent of companies said 100% of their new hires will hold a bachelor's degree in Computer Science and IT. Eight percent said they will make up 75-to-99% of hires, 7 percent said they will make up 45-to-75% of all hires, and 17% said they will make up 15-to-44%. A third of companies said 33% of their hires will hold those degrees, and 33% said they will not hire any graduates with CS and IT bachelor's degrees.

Employers are being a bit more conservative with salaries, Gardner says. While nearly 40% plan to increase salaries, that's a noticeable decline from the previous year.

The survey also found larger firms (those with more than 500 employees) slowed their pace of hiring slightly this year while small organizations are hiring at a brisker pace. The largest companies also expressed greater concern about retirements creating gaps in the workforce.

Gardner says employers continue to look for "T-shaped professionals" — those who have deep expertise in a specific field but can collaborate across a range of disciplines.

"Advanced communication skills, project management, teamwork, critical thinking — that's what employers want," he says. "Not only are those employees going to work across disciplines, they're going across business functions and across organizational, political, cultural, and nation-state boundaries. So, employees need to have a different set of skills."

College majors and areas of study are still important, but so are these "power skills," Gardner says. Those are what get new graduates in the door.

While the job market is promising, students shouldn't wait until the last minute to prepare for the workforce, he says. Instead, they should engage in different activities and take advantage of resources offered on their campuses.

Other key findings from the report:

  • The smallest companies (those with fewer than 99 employees) plan to increase new graduate hiring by 37%.
  • Finance and insurance services organizations, as well as the construction industry, report strong hiring.
  • There is a lack of "soft skills" among graduates.
  • Internships are key, and employers prefer to hire those with professional experience.


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