Job outlook positive for 2006 college graduates

by Claire Duffett, Journal Staff

SYRACUSE " College seniors entering the job market in 2006 are finding more jobs at higher salaries. Graduates at Syracuse University (SU) are experiencing the same trend, SU's career-services professionals say.

In 2005, SU graduates' starting salaries exceeded pre-Sept.11, 2001, figures for the first time, says Michael Cahill, Center for Career Services director.

Cahill believes that 2006 salaries will exceed last year's numbers, but says it is too early to determine by what margin, he says.

In 2005, the average starting salary for an SU graduate was $36,800, up from $34,700 in 2004, Cahill says. The increase came after several years of decline, with average salaries of $34,851 in 2001, $34,705 in 2002, and $33,679 in 2003.

Students who graduate from the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science earn the highest starting salaries, roughly $50,000, followed by business and information-technology (IT) students, who start at about $44,000. Liberal Arts students start at around $34,000, while students graduating from The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications have the lowest starting salaries, at about $31,000, Cahill says.

Karen McGee, director of the Newhouse Career Development Center, notes that $31,000 is a substantial increase over the previous average starting salary of about $28,000.

The job-search process looks different depending on a student's major, Cahill adds.

About 50 percent of students in management, engineering, and IT have jobs before graduation, while only about 15 percent of students in The College of Arts & Sciences have jobs by May, he explains.

This is because the firms that recruit on campus are concentrated in the fields with the fewest candidates.

Students with a broad-based skill-set need to be more proactive in their job search, agrees Steven Rothberg, president and founder of CollegeRecruiter.com, an online portal where new and recent graduates can connect with employers seeking entry-level candidates.

Students graduating with degrees in health care, business, engineering, and IT are also the most sought after job candidates on his site, receiving the most job offers at the highest salaries before graduation, Rothberg says.

"The job market for college graduates is definitely better this year than last, and substantially better than it was in 2002 and 2003," Rothberg says.

In Central New York, private-sector employment increased 1.7 percent for the 12-month period ending February 2006, according to the most recent data from the New York State Department of Labor.

Job creation in Central New York was concentrated in trade, transportation, and utilities, which added 1,300 jobs; professional and business services, up 1,000; educational and health, up 1,000; financial activities, up 600; leisure and hospitality, up 500; manufacturing, up 400; and natural resources, mining, and construction, up 100. Information services lost 300 jobs, and services classified in the "other" category lost 200 jobs over the year, the labor department says.

At Le Moyne College, salaries have only come in so far for accounting firms, and they are in step with last year's offers, says Linda McGraw, director of career services, who did not offer exact figures.

National polls are reporting across-the-board gains in employer confidence and recruitment of college graduates.

Students graduating in 2006 will enter the best job market in four years, the annual survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports.

About nine of 10 employers described the job market as good, very good, or excellent, and two-thirds of employers plan to increase the number of recent college graduates they plan to hire by May 2006, the NACE survey says.

NACE found that employers plan to hire 14.5 percent more new college graduates in 2005 to 2006 than they did in 2004 to 2005.

Seventy percent of hiring managers plans to recruit on campus this year, up from 62 percent in 2005, according to CareerBuilder.com's annual survey.

College-graduate surveys by online job sites are coming back with the same results, says Cecelia Dwyer, president of TrueCareers.com, which is owned by Sallie Mae Co.

The surveys say that employers plan to hire between 8 percent and 15 percent more new graduates than last year, Dwyer says.

"Clearly companies are refocusing on on-campus recruitment efforts that took a backseat after the dotcom explosion and the retraction that occurred after that," Dwyer says.

Because of the implosion of Internet"based business in 2001, fewer students entered IT than in the past, leading to a shortage of qualified candidates in this field. As a result, those graduating with computer-related degrees are receiving multiple job offers before graduation, Rothberg says.

Rothberg adds that another reason for a shortage of IT and engineering-related professionals is because after Sept. 11, the federal government began restricting H1B work visas that allow foreigners, many of whom are trained in technical professions, to work in the United States.

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