3 reasons college grads are struggling to find jobs—even in a better economy

Traditional graduation-to-job pathways have become obsolete

The job market appears to be improving—so why are college grads still struggling to find work?

Finding a job as a new grad today is much harder than it was a decade or two ago, according to Phil Gardner, director of the Michigan State University (MSU) employment center. He recently discussed challenges for new grads in the labor market with Jeffrey Selingo, who wrote about the interview for the Washington Post.

Gardner identified three reasons why recent grads still have it tough on the job market.

1. Companies don't recruit on campus the way they used to

In fact, companies don't really do anything the way they used to. According to Gardner, a more diverse range of organizations are now recruiting on campuses, and they're all using their own recruiting calendars.

In the 1980s, most campus recruiters represented organizations in the manufacturing, retail, or finance industries—and they hired graduates by the hundreds, Gardner explains. Today, he says there are more employers, spread across more industries, and hiring fewer students each.

With a more diverse set of recruiters, there's more for students to keep track of in terms of requirements and deadlines, Selingo notes.

2. The skills gap is wider than ever

No matter who you think is responsible for the skills gap, there's no denying the fact it's taking a toll on college grads and companies.

In the past, Gardner says large companies invested in training for entry-level employees, often offering rotational programs for comprehensive learning. Now, however, these costly programs are becoming less and less common. Employers are looking to hire workers who already possess the skills they need. 

Only 16% of students rate career services office as "very helpful"

To complicate matters further, very few companies reliably require the same skills for multiple hiring cycles, meaning that graduates cannot possibly know the skills they'll need to land a specific job far enough in advance to choose a major or course that will align.

Gardner says the cumulative effect is that recruiters expect young candidates to be much more savvy than in the past, arguing that "[companies] are asking 23-year-old new graduates to act like 35-year-old experienced workers."

3. The economy is changing faster than people can

Skill requirements are changing faster because the industries themselves are changing at an unprecedented pace, says Gardner.

Selingo notes that it's hard for colleges to know what to prepare students for in an environment where "entire industries are disappearing almost overnight, and legacy companies are quickly changing course."

While previous generations of college seniors "had maps with clearly marked trails for their careers," today's college graduates are looking at unchartered territory (Selingo, Washington Post, 3/10).

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