This weekend, thousands of college students will cross the stage in commencement ceremonies across North Texas.
Despite the pandemic, those students will be crossing over into a more promising job market, too.
“Our graduates definitely have a bright future," said Nicole Philip, Associate Director of Employer Relations for the Lockheed Martin Career Development Center at UT Arlington. “The market is hot. Lots of opportunity. I definitely recommend being open minded because there are several opportunities out there that are very competitive. So utilizing the career center, we are here to help.”
Philip and her team are busy connecting employers with ready to work college graduates and internship candidates.
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"We’re here to help current students and alumni," said Keith Sherwood, an employer outreach specialist. "Your career search may not always be linear. You may already have a job and are thinking about changing. It’s never too late to revamp your résumé, it’s never too late to come in and learn about how to talk about those transitional skills you have if you’re looking at changing industries."
UT Arlington is just one of several large universities hosting graduation ceremonies happening across North Texas this weekend. About 5,400 UTA students are expected to graduate including 91 doctoral candidates, which is a 40% increase over last year.
Many students who put a pause on graduating in 2020 are moving forward in 2021. And there's reason to believe they might have an easier time finding a job this time around.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2022 report projects a 30% increase in college hiring over the next 6 months. The report also shows that employers plan to hire 26.6% more new grads from the class of May 2022 than they did the class of May 2021.
According to NACE, their data appears to be in line with job opening trends in general. With job openings exceeding 10 million and the unemployment rate now below 5%, employers are looking for candidates in a very competitive labor market.
“I think students are in a really good position coming out of the fall 2021, not only to find a good career but find one that they want to stay with long-term," said Sherwood.
UTA’s career center reports seeing a significant increase in the number of job and internship postings right now compared to last year.
“[Companies] are looking at college grads who have a top-tier education, who are unentitled, and are able to quickly go in and do the work and pick that up," said Sherwood. "They’re recognizing more and more that that is a place they want to be. And we’re seeing that in the employer outreach team that I work on, here employers are reaching out daily, dozens of employers wanting to be able to connect with students.”
The labor shortages have caused a strong need for workers, especially in education and healthcare.
However, competition for positions is strong in other sectors.
“Technical skills are in high demand, perhaps they’ve never been higher," said Sherwood. "The DFW to Austin corridor is a huge hotspot for tech talent. So it’s not necessarily that those jobs are hard to find but they're becoming increasingly competitive. What we’re seeing more is that not only students but workers in general are doing a lot closer review of employers before they are accepting those job offers."
The current environment is a huge change from 2020, when that class entered one of the most chaotic labor markets in history. Another recent NACE survey showed only 50 percent of the class of 2020 had full time jobs within six months of graduation.
"We can all take our memories back to March of last year -- we had actually just finished the job fair and we were looking forward to a great spring semester," said Sherwood. "But suddenly the world turned on its head. Employers and our center had to adjust. It was initially overwhelming. We hadn’t heard from a lot of employers, who canceled internships or had to put hiring on delay."
But that didn't last for long.
"I think there was a summer revamp period," said Sherwood. "[Companies] had a couple of months to revamp and the summer to re-orient, just as we did. And things really started picking up in the fall."
The transition into virtual and remote work has opened up the opportunities. Local graduates to North Texas are also reaping the benefits of living in a region that boasts the headquarters for 22 Fortune-500 companies.
“Once employers learned that they could go virtual and not lose the quality of work but often increase it, I think that’s what we’re seeing here today even in the fall of 2021 -- is employers continuing to increase hiring, productivity across-the-board," said Sherwood. "Companies are recruiting nationally and they know DFW is a hub for good talent so they’re coming here."
Experts at the career center are urging new graduates to keep an open mind in the job search.
“Prepare, prepare, prepare,” said Philip. “The virtual recruiting world is here to stay. Even after the pandemic, we’ve heard a lot of employers say that they’re going to stick with virtual recruiting because it’s effective and efficient.”
Networking is also still as crucial as ever.
"You don’t have to know someone to be able to network effectively, you just have to be able to put yourself out there and place yourself in a position where you’re able to connect with the right individuals,” said Sherwood. “That’s going to make a large difference in the career and job that you may eventually find yourself in.”