Next time you hear a recent college graduate complain that they’re having a hard time finding a job in their field, believe them.
Because the competition out there is stiff.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, about 1.9 million newly minted college graduates are expected to hit the job market this year, on top of 780,000 Master’s degree holders and 182,000 new PhDs. And all of them, at least those who aren’t going back to school for another degree, are going to be entering the workforce at roughly the same time.
These numbers have held relatively steady for years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, colleges and universities awarded about 1.8 million bachelor’s degrees, 778,00 master’s degrees and 177,000 PhDs during the 2013-14 school year.
In Colorado, just over 55,000 degrees are handed out by our postsecondary schools each year, including bachelor’s, masters and doctoral degrees, as well as certificates and associate’s degrees. In fact, nearly half of all new graduates in our state in any given year are receiving their bachelor’s degree, according to the Colorado Department of Education.
Yes, the job market is doing better — the national unemployment rate remains at 3.7 percent, and is just 2.7 percent here in Colorado — but there is a lot of competition out there for those available jobs, especially those a little further up the ladder that require a bachelor’s degree or better. And those jobs are only going to get more difficult to secure.
As explained by the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s 2018 report on graduation rates and college enrollment, prepared for state legislators: “Earning a postsecondary credential is increasingly important for individuals, the economy and the future of our society. Projections show that by 2020, 74 percent of Colorado’s jobs will require some form of postsecondary education.”
Given these hurdles, it’s never too soon for new college graduates, and those students who are soon to enter the workforce themselves, to prepare themselves for the world of work. Here are some steps to take now to make sure the transition is a seamless one.
Focus on real-world experience: For many students, it’s easy to get caught up in the rhythm of education and its focus on GPA and achievements. But the labor force doesn’t work that way. At work, results matter most of all. To bridge this gap, soon-to-be graduates should take advantage of internship opportunities in order to develop real-world skills in their chosen field, learning by doing alongside potential future colleagues. After all, an internship is also a great path to full-time employment after graduation.
Stay up to date: A generation ago, the business world operated on 10-year timelines and longer. Progress was incremental, markets were slow to change, and the status quo usually got the job done. No more. Today’s businesses change rapidly — a year or two between iterations means you’re already behind the times — and they need employees who understand these shifting sands and can keep up. This puts recent grads at an advantage; they know what’s coming next because they’re living it every day. They need to embrace that advantage.
Share your passions: Students and young professionals today are passionate about a wide variety of topics — the environment, sustainability, corporate social responsibility, public health and more. More and more, they are looking for ways to bring those interests into the workplace, and employers are embracing that. Employers are demanding change agents in today’s leading issues, and those passions can make recent graduates even more employable.
Work on soft skills: Technical skills — coding, accounting, drafting, etc — are of course very valuable, but in a market where everything can be outsourced, it’s soft skills that matter. This means problem-solving, teamwork, communications and more. In every workplace and every company, at some point something is going to go wrong. It’s how employees deal with those hurdles that’s truly the linchpin of their success, and employers know it. Recent grads should focus on developing these soft skills and make sure their bosses know it. It’s another arrow in the quiver that can help them stand out from the crowd of similar applicants.
New college graduates are, quite literally, the future of the Denver south region’s workforce. By helping them get up to speed and contributing, we’ll all benefit.