Class of 2016 College Graduate Hiring Forecast Best in 10 Years

Learning agility is the top attribute companies seek

By Roy Maurer May 2, 2016
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Two-thirds of employers plan to hire from this year’s crop of college graduates, up 2 percentage points from 2015 and representing the rosiest outlook in a decade, according to a new survey from CareerBuilder.

The national survey of 2,186 hiring managers and human resource professionals conducted between February 10 and March 17 found that 37 percent of hiring employers plan to offer college graduates higher pay than last year. Fifty-three percent expect no change in salary offers, and 11 percent expect a decrease in starting salaries.

“In addition to an improving economy, we are beginning to see a rising number of retirements, which is creating more room for advancement and creating opportunities for entry-level candidates,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder.

More than half of these employers (52 percent) say they will make offers to students before they graduate, and the majority of employers (67 percent) say they are willing to negotiate salary when extending a job offer.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2016 Spring Update report found that while the forecasted hiring activity for the Class of 2016 is positive, the current hiring projections are less than the heady 11 percent increase over the previous year that employers originally reported to NACE in November 2015. Employers expect to hire 5.2 percent more new graduates from the Class of 2016 than they hired from the Class of 2015, according to the updated report.

College Majors in Demand

Jobs in information technology (27 percent) and customer service (26 percent) top the types of positions that employers hiring recent college grads are recruiting for, according to CareerBuilder. There are also many job opportunities in finance and accounting (19 percent), business development (19 percent), and sales (17 percent).

Steven Rothberg, president and founder of College Recruiter, a leading job board used by college students and recent graduates to find employment opportunities, questions the high percentage of customer service jobs on the list. “Very few people go to a four-year college and are able to afford to take a customer service position upon graduation,” he said. “Employers we talk to are overwhelmingly hiring recent grads for sales, or jobs closely aligned to sales, which could include customer service and management roles, depending on how they’re defined.” After sales jobs, employers are mainly looking to fill IT and computer science jobs, and entry-level management roles, Rothberg said.

The following majors are the most in-demand, according to the CareerBuilder survey:

  • Business (35 percent).
  • Computer and information sciences (23 percent).
  • Engineering (18 percent).
  • Math and statistics (15 percent).
  • Health professions and related clinical sciences (14 percent).

Need for Skills Development

Employers expressed some dismay that new college grads may not be ready for the work world.

“Just because there are vacancies doesn’t mean college students are always ready to fill them,” Haefner said.

Twenty-four percent of respondents in the CareerBuilder survey do not feel that academic institutions are adequately preparing students for roles needed within their organizations, an increase from 21 percent who felt that way in 2015.

Specifically, employers said academic institutions fall short in the following areas:

  • Too much emphasis on book learning instead of real-world learning (47 percent).
  • Not enough focus on internships (13 percent).
  • Failing to keep up with technological changes (13 percent).
  • Not enough students are graduating with the degrees that companies need (11 percent).

When asked to name the essential abilities that recent college graduates are lacking, most of these employers cited interpersonal or people skills (52 percent) or problem-solving skills (48 percent), followed by a lack of skills in leadership (42 percent), teamwork (39 percent) and written and oral communication (37 percent).

The majority of executives (43 percent) responding to a survey from Futurestep, a division of executive search and management advisory firm Korn Ferry, said the top attribute they look for in college recruits is learning agility, defined as “the ability to learn from experiences and apply those learnings to new roles.” Learning agility was nearly tied (30 percent) with business acumen (31 percent) as the largest skills gap among college recruits. There were 1,753 responses to the global survey, which took place March 7-29.

“The pace of today’s global, always-connected business environment is frenetic,” said Vivienne Dykstra, Futurestep’s business development director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa and global subject matter expert for the firm’s graduate practice. “Organizations need employees who can keep up, change and innovate as circumstances evolve. The best hiring and development initiatives have a focus on learning agility.”

The next most-sought attributes in college recruits were drive (27 percent) and cultural fit (17 percent).

Future Focus

The Futurestep study also found that the majority of college recruiting programs are forward-looking, as 63 percent of respondents said their programs are focused on developing the next generation of leaders. Just 14 percent said they were focused on filling immediate operational requirements.

“The vast majority of organizations—if they have a university relations program at all—almost always mean they are recruiting students and recent grads with the business goal of hiring their next generation of leaders,” Rothberg said. “Sometimes that’s done to save costs. I hear from employers that it’s far cheaper to hire someone out of college and train them, then to try to hire someone with a couple years’ experience and have them hit the ground running.”

However, the survey also found that less than one-third of employers (29 percent) have a strategy to engage employees for future opportunities, and less than one-quarter (22 percent) add recruits to their long-term applicant tracking system after deciding that a college candidate is not the right fit for a prospective position.

“Not keeping track of applicants is a huge missed opportunity,” Dykstra said. “A college grad may not yet be ready for a particular role, but keeping an ongoing dialogue open for when the ideal position is available will ensure that a candidate will choose your organization over a competitor.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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