May 7—When University of Dayton senior Max DiGiacomo returned to campus last August, he launched a job search that saw him more confident than graduates nationwide have been in the previous two years.
"I was never really worried about finding something," said DiGiacomo, a finance major from the Cleveland area. "I started looking as soon as I got on campus and then I started getting interviews a month after that."
A phone interview in September was followed a month later by a panel interview conducted on Zoom during a 2-day hiring event that saw him networking with numerous people and performing a case study and presentations. He received a job offer in February, a place in the finance development leadership program with BAE Systems in the Washington, D.C. area.
"It was a little bit of time before I got something, but it ended up working out for me," he said. "I don't think I was ever worried about the hiring process itself, it's just the changing work environment that's a little bit scary."
For many college students like DiGiacomo, the job market looks significantly brighter than in the earlier days of the COVID pandemic, when it wreaked havoc on college life and threw a wrench in their studies.
While the classes of 2020 and 2021 found roadblocks to the typical job-hunting process, those graduating now can actually meet with recruiters for companies who are more confident about hiring than they have been for the past two years.
Statistics bear that out. Employers plan to hire almost one-third (31.6%) more new college graduates from the Class of 2022 than they hired from the Class of 2021, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' Job Outlook 2022 report.
"This is really a positive year to graduate from college with either a two- or four-year degree," said Jason Eckert, executive director of career services for University of Dayton. "The economy, while there are lots of uncertainties regarding inflation and international affairs, hiring is really strong for college graduates."
Eckert, who has more than two decades of experience, said he's never seen a more dramatic 180-degree turn when comparing what was going on in spring 2021 versus today's marketplace for college graduates.
Most colleges and universities in the Miami Valley are part of an online job posting network called Handshake, which Eckert describes as a Monster.com or Careerbuilder.com for only college students and graduates.
The University of Dayton ran a report looking at total job postings that employers are submitting for UD students into Handshake.
A report from July 1, 2021 through this past Thursday showed 92,158 job postings for UD students — a staggering 109% increase from the 44,003 jobs that employers had posted in the system in the same period a year earlier.
Eckert said there are three reasons for that dramatic leap. First of all, with the pandemic winding down, "employers really do see the light at the end of the tunnel."
"Uncertainty has been replaced with a fair amount of certainty," he said.
In addition, there are still people who have not returned to the workforce, people who left positions to care for a loved one or out of concerns for illness.
"Because of that, people have to hire to fill those vacancies," he said.
The third reason involves demographics. With the number of retirees continuing to grow, much of that likely sped up as a result of the pandemic, It creates a hiring need across the economy, Eckert said.
Employment is always a game of supply and demand, he said. When the supply of jobs is lower, like it was throughout all of 2020, it is difficult for anyone, including college graduates, to find employment.
"When the supply of jobs is greater, it becomes more of an a person- or an applicant-centered market and it's easier for people of all backgrounds to find employment," Eckert said.
Almost 56% of respondents to NACE's Job Outlook 2022 Spring Update survey indicate that they will increase their college hire numbers, compared to just 16.5% the previous year, according to Job Outlook 2022 results. A reported 41% will maintain their hiring level. Fewer than 4% will decrease their number of college hires.
The data NACE collected in its survey appear to be in line with job opening trends in general. With late-March job openings at a 20-year high of 11.5 million and the unemployment rate falling to 3.6%, "it looks like things are looking up for people who have a college education," according to Kevin Willardsen, an assistant economics professor at Wright State University.
"If the labor force participation rate is increasing and unemployment is falling, that means there's considerable demand for that particular skill set, which corresponds with increased wages," Willardsen said.
It also helps that "right now, employers are just elated to find anybody that's willing to work," he said.
Willardsen said college students looking for work should always be willing to move, if that's an option.
"In many cases, there's a lot of opportunity out of state or in larger cities depending on where you live," he said. "If you live in rural Indiana and you came out of a school there, you may have a lot better options in Columbus."
For students who have yet to decide a major, Willardsen said they should pick one carefully. He said the economy is "definitely rewarding" those who earn degrees that are analytically rigorous and have a clear, marketable skill attached to them.
"That includes math, science and engineering," he said. "These jobs have always been high payers, but over the last few years they have grown quite a bit."
A 2020 PayScale report ranked the top college majors that alumni make the most money from in their respective professional careers. The rankings, released in 2021, are as follows:
1. Petroleum Engineering
2. Operations Research and Industrial Engineering
3. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
4. Interaction Design
5. Public Accounting
6. Operations Research
7. Applied Economics and Management
8. Business Computing
9. Actuarial Mathematics
10. Electrical Power Engineering
Another sought after field is the oil and gas extraction industry, which is doubling its college hires and has the largest projected increase at 105.9%, according to the Job Outlook 2022 Spring Update report.
Other highlights from the report include: — Respondents anticipate that 42% of their entry-level positions will be fully in person, 40% will be in a hybrid modality, and 18% will be fully remote. — The overall percentage of respondents that screen candidates by GPA has fallen to its all-time low of 43.5%. NACE calls that "a significant drop" from the high-point of 2019, when 73.3% of respondents were screening by GPA. — Nearly 90% of respondents indicate that they will be hiring for both full-time and intern/co-op positions this fall.