WICHITA, Kan. — The chilling mix of rain, sleet and wind last week may have felt like a metaphor for the local college students scurrying across campus.
Many of them entered school in 2009 as the recession began battering Wichita. Four years later, many are finding they didn’t escape its effects.
The prospects for the class of 2013 appear to be better than last year, but not much, say college officials.
Students in accounting, engineering, computer science and the health professions are seeing pretty good demand, said Jill Pletcher, director of the career services for Wichita State University.
“Beyond that, it’s a very, very tight market,” she said.
That jibes with the recently released Job Outlook Spring Update from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Companies in the survey, all large national employers, say they expect to hire 2.1 percent more new college grads this year than last.
Last fall, these employers said they expected the new-grad hiring to increase 13 percent. The more recent, lower figure seems in line with the subdued economic expectations of many businesses and a frustratingly slow job market.
A different survey, from consulting and outsourcing giant Accenture, reports that about 60 percent of 2013 college graduates expect that finding a job will be difficult or extremely difficult.
In the same survey, 41 percent of 2012 graduates reported that they were working in jobs that didn’t require a college degree. An additional 7 percent said they were still unemployed.
Devon Hummel, a December graduate in marketing and management from Wichita State University, appreciates having a job as assistant manager at an apartment complex, but it’s not what she wants in life.
She is pushing her husband to move out of Kansas to someplace warmer with more prospects in her field.
She’s finding it difficult to enter the job market of a distant place. Visiting for interviews is expensive.
“I’ve applied for many, many jobs in Texas,” she said. “At first I was setting my sights high, applying for marketing jobs, and then lowered it to just about anything to get out of state. It’s a little discouraging not finding anything.”
She said she regrets not being more aggressive in seeking out internships while in college. Now, she said, they may wind up just moving and looking for work after they move.
Connie Dietz wishes more people like Hummel would stop by her office, Cooperative Education and Work-Based Learning at Wichita State.
Dietz, the office’s director, said finding an internship can be crucial to getting a foot in the door of a career-starting job. If nothing else, she said, it will give students a good feel for the profession and some real work experience for their resume.
In the 2011-12 school year, 871 students took internships or co-op program positions through her office or through one of the pre-professional colleges. About half will wind up being offered a job after graduation, she said.
Still that’s fewer than a third of seniors in any one year, Dietz said.
“We’d love to have it higher,” she said.
On one hand, Dietz said, in most majors there usually aren’t enough internships available for all the students who want them. It can be pretty competitive, and students may need to agree to work out of town.
She expects the university, with its renewed economic development mission, to develop the program in years to come and hopes employers will respond.
“I am convinced that the way to keep our students here is to put them into an internship,” said Dietz, a longtime member of the Wichita school board. “They get hooked into a job, get networked into the community and then it’s just easy to stay.”
Caleb Humig is well on his way down this path. The mechanical engineering student and former Marine is interning at Chance Manufacturing, the longtime Wichita amusement ride maker.
He said he probably has a job there once he graduates in December, and he really likes the work. But, as an engineer, he’s in a privileged position.
“I’ll probably look around to see what other jobs are out there,” he said.
He says he’s pretty happy these days. He plans to stay in Wichita. His fiancee, who has already graduated from WSU, is looking for a finance job right now.
But for many other students getting out of college, the search for employment is just beginning. Most will eventually find work of some kind, but there may be buyers’ remorse in the choice of college, choice of major, use of time, amount of debt.
That’s something that Hummel thinks about these days, as she tries to ignite her career.
“There are a lot of college students getting out, and I’m not sure the economy is ready for them,” she said.
©2013 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)
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