Outlook on Jobs for College Grads

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AKRON, Ohio -- Along the campaign trail for both Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the prospect of college students finding jobs after graduation has become a primary issue.

On the same day both candidates debated for their second time, more than 150 employers from across Northeast Ohio and beyond were on the campus of the University of Akron in a job fair organized by the university's College of Engineering.

Employers included Hoover Corporation, Timken, Mohen, NASA, First Energy and more.

Some 800 graduating students who pre-registered for the event were happy to see that the companies were all looking for help.

Deanna Dunn of the College of Engineering says 2009 was a difficult year with companies laying people off.

She said 82 companies could not get a fall co-op this year with the university because there were, essentially, more opportunities than there were students available to fill them.

"That is definitely a sign that the economy has come back on the stem side, the science, technology, engineering and math," said Dunn.

"We are hoping for more strength in (Ohio in biomedical engineering)," said Dunn. "Biomedical tends to have to go out of the area, civil is finally rebounding, we have more civil companies here than any industry corrosion, which is our new engineering curriculum, we do not have enough students."

Although Hoover Corporation's presence in Northeast Ohio is a fraction of what it once was when the company was manufacturing vacuums at its founding home in North Canton, the company still maintains its research and development group in Solon and they are hiring.

"We are continuously looking for a lot of good talent, engineering is the heart of our business and product development," said Hoover's Steven Paliobeis.

Many of the companies also say it is a myth for students to think that they have to leave Ohio to get good jobs.

"Manufacturing is growing in Ohio," noted Abbey Bruce of Viking Forge, who says her company has a tough time finding enough qualified employees.

"We need skilled workers and we need workers that are willing to start from the ground up and they are willing to learn," said Bruce.

"There's plenty of opportunity in Northeast Ohio.  There's no reason to leave Northeast Ohio, that's a myth. There are jobs. We see it all the time. We network through other human resources, human resource managers other companies, they are all saying the same thing," added Bruce.

LuAnn Coldwell, senior director of The University of Akron's career center, says while engineering is booming there are many other careers in which placing graduates is not difficult.

Those include petroleum engineering in jobs related to fracking, all healthcare-related fields, and information technology, careers related to computers.

"The number one area right now is IT, so information technology.  That's anything that's computer-related and that's nationwide," said Coldwell.

"There is a shortage and Microsoft is encouraging their employees to take a year off and go into high schools teaching computer science just to attract the tallent because they are seeing they are not getting the talent that they need," she added.

Coldwell says there are areas where it is more difficult to find jobs for graduates, but she says there are things the students can do to make themselves more attractive to employers. One of those careers is early childhood education.

"Early childhood education is one of those areas where, nationwide we graduate more graduates who specialize in working with little kids than we have positions available and part of that is people who teach little kids love their work and they don't tend to retire, and with the recession a lot of teachers put off their retirement because they don't have the money waiting for them or they have kids in school still," explained Coldwell.

But she said adding 'special education' to that college major can make a huge difference.

"Sometimes it's choosing the major but broadening the opportunities, so if someone loves little kids, if they also get the licensure to work with special needs kids they will have no trouble," said Coldwell.

Despite what has been said in political statements and campaigns, most current students at The University of Akron are upbeat about the opportunities awaiting them when they graduate.

"There's a lot of employers out here looking for a lot of us and I think it's promising to get a job full-time and I'm not worried about it," said David Collica, a four-year student with a double major in Business Administration and Mechanical Engineering.

"I think there's a good chance you can get a job. You have just got to study hard and just, like, look for a job," said George Thomas, who is majoring in Finance.

"I feel like my opportunities are very high," said Michael Gray, a Communications/Public Relations major. "It's just all about networking yourself and it starts now, it starts being a freshman or being a sophomore."

Psychology major Melissa Gilbert agreed that it takes some effort on their part.

"You just keep trying, you know," said Gilbert.  "I mean if you give up jobs aren't going to come to you."