Upbeat job market greets the Class of 2014


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Josh Higgins feels that a big burden has been lifted now that he’s set to start a job after graduation this month from Virginia Tech University. The journalism/political science major from Galax, Virginia, will go to work for a website that provides information on security issues.

Josh Higgins

Experts say he’ll be part of a big group of graduates who’ll make a successful transition into the workforce, thanks to a fairly upbeat employment outlook for the Class of 2014.

“It’s so relieving, just getting that entry-level job … after years of wondering what the outcome of graduating college would be like,” says Higgins.

A turning point for graduate hiring?

Perhaps more so than for any other class since the financial crisis late in the past decade, hiring prospects look promising for Higgins and many of the estimated 1.6 million students graduating with him from U.S. colleges and universities.

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“I can tell you my students are finding it better this year than in the past,” says Phillip Swagel, former chief economist for the Treasury Department and now a professor of international economic policy at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. “People are finding it somewhat easier to get jobs compared to, say, three years ago.”

There’s agreement on that point from John Challenger, whose own job provides a broad view of the workplace.

“Many of the college grads in recent years have felt like they have had extra hard times coming into tough job markets. But that is beginning to turn,” says Challenger, CEO of the global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The education factor

The job market is “still very competitive,” cautions Andrea Koncz, employment information manager for the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

But a college diploma is a plus. The U.S. Labor Department says the March unemployment rate was 3.4 percent for Americans 25 or older with at least a bachelor’s degree, but more than 6 percent for those with less education.

Various surveys provide more reasons for optimism among the 2014 graduates:

  • Employers plan to hire 8.6 percent more students from this year’s class compared with last year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found.
  • Nearly 6 in 10 (57 percent) employers say they’ll hire new college graduates. That compares with 53 percent last year and just 44 percent in 2010, according to CareerBuilder.com and CareerRookie.com.
  • Nearly two-thirds of human resources professionals plan to hire from this year’s graduate crop, says Challenger, Gray & Christmas in its first survey on the college grad outlook.

Graduates most in demand

CareerBuilder says the majors most sought after by employers include:

  • Business.
  • Computer/information services.
  • Engineering.
  • Math/statistics.

At the bottom of the list:

  • Communications and journalism.

In some fields, such as engineering and accounting, there are more jobs available than applicants, says Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. However, some students with degrees less in demand will find it more challenging.

“A straight-level arts education with just backgrounds in history or government — those (jobs) are going to be harder to obtain,” Reaser says.

The payoff

Fortunately for graduating senior Higgins, hard work and time spent in internships is paying off. Now he’s beginning to think about the financial challenges a worker typically faces.

“I’ve been thinking about how much money I’m going to make and how much it’s going to cost me for apartment, rent and food,” he says.

Those are challenges all new college graduates might like to have.