Wichita State University’s Rhatigan Student Center hummed with intensity this week as students chatted over coffee or munched sandwiches between sessions of studying.
But even as finals approach, the stress levels of graduating seniors may actually be dropping this year because of a warming job market.
The demand for newly minted college graduates has improved only very slowly since the recession that ended officially in mid-2009. Until the past few years, employers here and nationally have often been able to hire more-experienced workers to fill the few openings in their shrunken workforces.
But that has been changing as employers have grown more confident about expanding workforces. At the same time, workers feel more freedom to change jobs or retire.
A recent survey of employers by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that employers were looking at hiring 9.6 percent more graduates this year than in 2014. Good, but not great.
“It’s positive,” said Andrea Koncz, research manager for the group. “The college job market is improving. It’s not where it was before it crashed, but it’s improving slowly and steadily.”
Sherry Lamm, director of career services and cooperative education for Newman University, said she is seeing a similar slow, steady improvement locally.
She said that 67 employers came to the college’s spring job fair, and the college had 150 job listings in March.
“It’s looking up,” she said. “Postings are almost double what I was getting two years ago.”
Connie Dietz, executive director of WSU’s Career Development Center, said demand for students as interns and as full-time employees is up – depending on the major. The most popular remain the same as they have been throughout the recovery: all kinds of engineers; accountants; and members of the health professions, particularly physical therapy.
She also mentioned that she gets a lot of requests for communications majors. One major that may be suffering is education, as many school districts appear more hesitant to offer contracts because of state funding issues.
For the pool of students who are leaving college with an English, history, philosophy or similar liberal arts degrees, she said they should keep their heads up. There is demand out there, but they have to look.
“I tell them to keep your options open, think broadly, don’t have tunnel vision so that you ignore possibilities,” she said.
James Deckard is a finance major at WSU who will graduate in December. This week he learned that he has been hired by the Martens Cos. as an appraising assistant.
He had spent a year interning with a company that did wealth management, and that experience on his resume was key to getting hired.
He said he’s been pretty confident that he would get a job in his career field, but acknowledged that might not have been the case a few years ago.
“Timing is everything,” he said.
Levi Jenkins of Topeka is about to graduate with a major in social work. He’ll head back to his home town and expects to have no trouble finding work.
“There are a lot of opportunities for social work – a lot,” he said.
Abby Lingg is graduating with a piano performance major and a Spanish minor. Most people with music degrees go on to graduate school, she said.
“But I’m not ready,” she said. “I’ll do a little private teaching.”
She also expects also to do some teaching of English to those whose first language is something else.
Plans to hire
DigiPath Corp. is a high-tech startup that is looking to grow fast.
President Steve Barbee said he needs to develop some serious technical talent. He was at a WSU career fair in February searching for electrical and mechanical engineering students, as well as computer science students and bio-engineering students.
His company is developing a device that will replace microscopes in cancer treatment, taking 10,000 pictures at a microscopic level and using software to stitch them together for a doctor to read.
Barbee said he expects to hire two or three electrical/mechanical engineering majors to work on the hardware and two or three bio-engineering students with outgoing personalities to work in sales and marketing for the device. The computer science majors, he said, need to specialize in imaging, and he will probably have to look elsewhere.
He said he expects to move the company from Silicon Valley to Wichita in the new few years. Finding the building blocks of a tech company locally was crucial to the decision to relocate.
“I would say I was satisfied with what I’ve seen in Wichita,” he said.