Job prospects are strong for the Class of '06


Published: Saturday, April 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 31, 2006 at 8:40 p.m.
As a member of the Class of 2006, Kevin Nelson had his pick of jobs as a chemical engineer but has chosen to stay on at the Navy's Surface Warfare Center, where he's worked part-time since entering the University of Maryland four years ago.
"I've had a co-op job in production, research and development and plan to work there till I figure out exactly what I want to do with a versatile degree like mine, which can lead to medical school or bioengineering and manufacturing everything from oil to beer to computer chips," says Nelson, 21, of Waldorf, Md.
His major is among the hottest for this year's crop of graduates, as is that of his classmate, electrical-engineering major Tin May Lee, 22. She says she was "lucky" to receive multiple offers before accepting a job in wireless communication with Booz Allen Hamilton in Virginia.
But the reality of the 2006 job market is that it's the strongest in five years for the nation's 1.4 million new graduates, whatever their major, as seniors finally have the luxury of choosing among multiple offers from employers promising good pay and perks.
Employers report that they're planning to hire 14.5 percent more new college grads this year than they hired in 2005 - and at starting-salary offers that are up 6.2 percent on average to $45,723 from a year ago, the National Association of Colleges and Employers reports.
Marilyn Mackes, the group's executive director, says that engineering majors can expect to see the highest starting salaries, topped by chemical engineers at $55,900. This is followed by computer engineers, electrical-communications engineers and mechanical engineers, with their averages topping $50,000.
Computer-science majors came in fifth, at $50,046, in the association's latest employer survey, followed by accounting and economics-finance majors at more than $45,000 each.
At Colorado State University's Pueblo campus, career-center director Michelle Gjerde says that civil-engineering graduates also are in high demand.
She reports that seven companies looking to hire civil-engineering graduates showed up at Colorado State's latest career fair in hopes of landing people who know how to build highways, roads and bridges when states and localities are beefing up infrastructure budgets, now that money from last year's $384 billion federal highway bill is beginning to flow.
Recruiters are also flooding other campuses.
Demand was so strong at the University of Texas at Austin that employers were turned away at the McCombs School of Business fall career fair after signups last summer reached capacity of 150 recruiters.
"That was a sign right there that the market was going to be strongly on the students' side," says Velma Arney, who oversees 4,500 undergrads as head of career services at McCombs.
Arney reports that employers show great interest in her 600 graduating with finance, business or accounting degrees because they "really want to keep feeding entry-level business graduates into the company." It's harder, she says, for those graduating with a master's in business administration who have more experience and more defined expectations under their belt.
Engineers and business majors aren't the only ones prospering in the Class of '06, to judge by the 35th annual Michigan State University recruiting-trends survey: It reports that employers are wooing graduates of all kinds this year.
"While employers still want business and engineering graduates, employers who are seeking to fill consulting, research-information, management and e-commerce positions want to talk to all majors - particularly liberal-arts graduates who know how to do research," reports Phil Gardner, head of Michigan State's Collegiate Employment Research Institute, which conducts the poll.
(Preliminary data from the colleges-and-employers survey show that starting salaries for liberal-arts grads are up 6.1 percent over last year and stand on average at $30,828.)
Sandra George Tracy, director of career services at Rhodes College, a four-year liberal-arts school in Memphis, Tenn., says recruitment "looks stronger than last year, which looked very good comparatively."
Many of the 400 graduating seniors at Rhodes are considering teaching, including "alternative teaching programs such as Teach for America and the Mississippi Teacher Corps, both of which stress improving K-through-12 education in inner cities and rural areas," Tracy notes. She adds that Rhodes' stress on "the importance of mission" may encourage students to do work that gives back to the community before setting their sights on a money-making career.
Some Rhodes seniors and grads also have applied to teach at the year-old Stax Charter School and Music Academy, built on the former site of Memphis' legendary Stax Recording Studio. The school opened last year with 60 sixth-graders. It will add a grade a year, with the curriculum continuing into a college-preparatory program "in a music-rich environment." The institution also has after-school and weekend programs for at-risk youth.
"We have a great relationship with Rhodes for teacher recruitment when we're hiring for 2006 and four more years to come," says school administration spokesman Tim Sampson. "Our program is so challenging it's not for every teacher when they teach 7:30 to 5 weekdays and three Saturdays a month with no long summer breaks like at other public schools."
Schoolteachers - particularly teachers of science and math - also are in high demand at College of Mount St. Joseph, career-center director Maggie Davis reports, as districts from around its Cincinnati campus showed up to hire the school's 2006 crop of Ohio-certified teachers.
And Mount St. Joseph's health-care fair for this year's graduating students in nursing and physical therapy "was sold out to recruiters last week," Davis says.
She adds that the result is not surprising because health-care jobs count for eight of the top 10 occupations the U.S. Department of Labor expects to post the strongest job growth between now and 2014.

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