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As economy sours, students worry about job prospects


By Caitlin Cobb

Marcie Kirk-Holland, left, project manager with the Internship and Career Center, discusses resume strategies with student advisor Fariha Naveed, a third-year science and technology studies major. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

The U.S. economy is making it difficult for graduating students to join the work force, scholars, staff and students say.

“There is no doubt that graduating students face an anxiety-provoking job market,” said Vicki Smith, department chair and professor of sociology at UC Davis. “We are in a recession. Companies large and small are laying off employees.”

Entry-level hurdles

The problem students now have is that many companies may be reluctant to hire people for entry-level or junior positions. Companies will instead assign more work to current employees, Smith said.

“Since early October, conditions have greatly worsened, and employers are refraining from expanding their work forces,” she explained. “This certainly means that many entry-level positions will go unfilled as companies continue with hiring freezes.”

Students will have to work harder and possibly make sacrifices or adjustments when looking for a job, she said. It may ultimately take longer for students to obtain their ideal job or career.

The current unemployment rate in the U.S. is 7.2 percent, the highest the country has seen in years. And in California, the state reported an 8.4 percent unemployment rate in November.

“For students graduating today or in the next year, I can imagine that it will take longer to find one’s ideal job. Recent graduates might take jobs they don’t really want but feel they need to take to make money,” Smith said.

The fact that it is becoming harder for anyone to find jobs has struck fear and anxiety in many graduating seniors, including ones at UC Davis.

“The economy today scares me. I honestly have no idea what my future holds,” said Jackie Berliant, a senior graphic design major who graduated in December.

Students planning to graduate in the coming months are faced with the dilemma of trying to find a job immediately after graduation in an economy plagued with dropping sales and increasing layoffs.

Some students, like Berliant, have decided to take a year off, possibly to travel. Taking time off from work and school may allow some time for the economy to return to a more stable state.

“Shortly after I graduate, I will be travelling to Israel with my sister on our Birthright trip,” Berliant said. “Birthright is an organized trip which allows young Jewish adults to travel to Israel for free.”

Internship and Career Center staff have begun to see trends in student opinions on the economy and their futures.

“I think the current economic situation is definitely affecting students,” said Marcie Kirk-Holland, project manager with the Internship and Career Center.

While everyone deals with stress and uncertainty in different ways, she said, now might be an opportune time for students to travel or decide what kind of path they wish to take in light of the economic crisis.

Kirk-Holland said one student decided to participate as a counselor in Camp Adventure, a program she discovered through the center. The camp pays for counselors to fly to and live on a military base, and also provides a stipend so the counselors are able to travel within the country they are assigned to.

This type of program is great for students who feel that they might not be able to obtain their ideal job or position for a year or two, she added.

‘Make myself more competitive’

Many students have also decided to attend graduate school as an alternative to joining the workforce, said Chris Dito, manager of Career Recruiting Programs.

“It is now validating to students to get an advanced degree,” Dito said.

Students now feel that having an additional degree in law, business or any other profession will ultimately increase their chances of finding a job when they graduate, she said. Dito added that students are thinking, “what can I do to make myself more competitive.”

More students attended the fall 2008 career fair than ever before, Dito said. This increased number shows that students are interested in learning as much as possible about potential career opportunities.

“As the economy goes down, medical school applications go up,” said Janice Morand, project manager with Internship and Career Center.

However, while graduate school is becoming a more popular option, many students want to find jobs right away, she said.

“There is an increased pressure to find employment quickly because students’ parents’ jobs are uncertain,” Morand said.

Despite the potential difficulty of finding a job, many students have decided to enter the workforce immediately after graduation. Economics major Avi Goodman will graduate in the spring, and take his chances with a new job.

“After graduation I begin work in early July as an investment banking analyst for Jefferies and Co. in San Francisco,” he said. “It is a several-year program designed for recent graduates that provides a good springboard into the world of finance.”

Students like Avi who have decided to try their luck in the work force are still aware of the benefits of graduate study.

“In a few years, I may return to school for an advanced degree,” Goodman said.

Still, many students are wary.

“With the economy looking at its worst in recent memory, it seems that all sectors will be affected,” Goodman stated. “While I was lucky to get a job early, it would be foolish to assume many jobs in investment banking are truly secure.”

To be sure, the kind of security that Goodman is talking about is not readily found in the current economy.

Caitlin Cobb is a Dateline intern.


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