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‘Lukewarm’ Job Market For Class of 2003

April 23, 2003 — University of Utah students planning to graduate in ten days are busy completing classes, finishing papers and preparing for exams. Many, too, are wondering what lies ahead for them-after May 2-as they enter the job market.

The current post-9-11 job market has been influenced by many factors-an uncertain economy, the threat of terrorism, depressed budgets, global instability, business scandals, a tumbling stock market, lack of consumer confidence, scarcity of capital, escalating health care costs and the war in Iraq.

“Overall the labor market remains gloomy; with occasionally a glimmer of hope that conditions will improve by late spring 2003,” reports 2002-2003 Recruiting Trends, the annual employer survey released by Michigan State University (MSU) that examines labor market conditions and what they indicate for college classes.

James A. Wood, interim director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University’s David Eccles School of Business, notes that Utah’s-and the nation’s-current 5.8 percent unemployment rate is not as high as in the 1980s, when unemployment exceeded 9 percent in Utah. But, Wood says, this recession is unique for Utah. There has been an actual decline in the number of jobs in the state. “Utah was down more than 11,000 jobs in 2002-something that hasn’t occurred since 1964. It is a difficult job market; as weak as we have had in many, many years,” he says, adding that government and health care services were the only sectors that experienced job growth in the last year.

Lisa Christensen, assistant director of the U’s Career Services, concurs. “Industries that were hot in the past are now just lukewarm,” she says. “And Utah tends to follow national trends.”

A new salary report conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) shows that salary offers to many new college graduates, most notably those in the technical disciplines, are “generally lackluster” and lower than they were just one year ago.

The good news?

“People are finding jobs,” Christensen says. “It is just taking them longer-an average of about six months to find a good job.” This timeline varies based on academic discipline, Christensen explains.

Notes Wood: “Although more workers are being laid off, there are still available jobs. The expectations are that this year we will have slight growth, somewhere around 7,500 jobs in Utah. Projections for 2004 are a little more optimistic.”

According to the MSU study, today’s employers are demanding that recently graduated new hires come with a “total package”-that is, academically prepared and able to demonstrate required competencies as they pertain to the employment. According to the report, employers are also looking for the following: communication skills, computer/technical aptitudes, leadership, teamwork, interpersonal abilities, positive personal traits, critical thinking skills, intelligence and common sense, work-related experiences and a willingness to learn quickly and continuously.

Graduates can dramatically increase their chances of being hired if they are what Christensen calls “geographically flexible,” or willing to move outside the state. Graduates-especially in the liberal arts-up the odds when they have related co-op or internship experience. In addition, willingness to take entry-level positions in areas outside of Utah dramatically increases graduates’ abilities to find suitable employment.

The U’s Career Services Library, which contains information on a wide variety of topics, including career/major research, job search strategies and employment trends, is open to students, faculty and staff as well as the general public. U graduates may use these resources indefinitely, although after two years they are charged a nominal fee for any alumni career counseling. For more information on career trends and opportunities for college graduates, visit the University of Utah’s Career Library, 350 Student Services Building, open weekdays from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., call 801-581-6186 or go to