New College Graduates Are in High Demand

Nearly three-fourths of U.S. employers plan to hire from the leading edge of Gen Z in 2017

By Steve Bates June 5, 2017
New College Graduates Are in High Demand

The percentage of U.S. employers that plan to hire new college graduates is at a 10-year high, according to the results of a recent survey. The small pool of experienced workers who are available and the strong skills and intangibles that newly minted graduates offer are fueling the demand for these workers.

A survey by the Harris Poll for Chicago-based employment services firm CareerBuilder found that 74 percent of U.S. employers plan to hire new college graduates in 2017, up from 67 percent in 2016 and the highest percentage in a decade. The survey found that half of employers expect to offer higher starting salaries in 2017 than a year earlier, with 39 percent of organizations paying at least $50,000 to graduates coming on board. A separate survey by Los Angeles-based Korn Ferry Hay Group found that starting salaries for students graduating from undergraduate schools in the U.S. in 2017 are at an all-time high.

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"Look at the low unemployment rate, especially for in-demand jobs," said Brett Good, senior district president of staffing agency Robert Half, who is based in Irvine, Calif.

"I'm hearing employers saying that they're not finding the right people so they are turning to new graduates," said Roberto Angelo, CEO and co-founder of AfterCollege, a student and graduate career network based in San Francisco. "You can either poach workers—which is hard—or you can go out and recruit them on campus."

The Graduating Class of 2017

This year's grads comprise the leading edge of Generation Z, which could turn out to differ in some ways from the Millennial generation. Early indications are that members of Generation Z are more pragmatic than Millennials and might be willing to remain with an employer for a decade or more. The newest graduates are particularly interested in working face to face with colleagues as opposed to via virtual collaboration.

In addition to receiving a solid education, many college students have demonstrated work-ready skills through internships and co-op programs. That can give them a leg up, recruiters say.

"They're bringing new thinking, new ideas and new ways to innovate," said Heidi Soltis-Berner, evolving workforce talent leader and managing director of Deloitte University for professional services firm Deloitte in Westlake, Texas.

"Employers are getting more aggressive in courting educated labor," said Jennifer Grasz, vice president of corporate communications at CareerBuilder. She added that some jobs that previously were filled by people without college degrees have become more complex, prompting some employers to now require a college degree for positions such as customer service representative and call-center employee.

The IT and customer service functions are those that employers most want to staff with new graduates, according to the Career Builder survey of people completing studies at undergraduate and graduate institutions in 2017.

According to a report from Matawan, N.J.-based talent acquisition services provider iCIMS, science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors are the top targets of college recruiters in 2017; 61 percent of recruiters are seeking them. Next come business and finance majors, sought by 55 percent of recruiters, and arts, communication and media students, sought by 48 percent.

Trent Silver, a career coach and CEO of Tampa, Fla.-based Nerdster, which assists college students with their studies, said the benefits of hiring new graduates include:

  • Relatively low starting salaries. They can't command the same pay as people with years of experience.
  • Technological expertise. They grew up in an era of rapid technological change.
  • An eagerness to learn and work. They bring excitement and energy to their first regular full-time jobs.
  • Long-term loyalty. Exposing them to the corporate brand early helps attract and keep them.

How to Attract the Talent You Need

The battle for top college talent is constantly changing, recruiting experts say. More organizations—particularly small employers—are now recruiting actively on college campuses than in recent years.

"Traditionally, large companies have done a really good job of campus recruiting," Angelo said. "I'm hearing that small ones are doing better than in the past."

While there is still a strong emphasis on college juniors and seniors, recruiters are paying more attention to freshmen and sophomores, particularly in fields such as technology. Some organizations are even offering programs to expose high school students to their brand.

"We're continuing to look at how and when we visit campuses," Soltis-Berner said. But the norm for employers, she remarked, is to approach students "earlier and earlier."

Said Grasz: "Employers are offering jobs earlier to lock in top talent."

Frequent personal contact between recruiters and students matters. "We continue to see a strong focus on creating the right candidate experience," Soltis-Berner noted. Recruiters are asking students, "What are your interests? How can we create the right fit for you?"

Angelo urges employers to partner with college professors to find critical talent. For example, he said, an employer that needs chemical engineering graduates should develop a relationship with those who teach that discipline. "Talk to professors directly," he advised. "Professors can't say who the best students are, but [professors] can share opportunities with them."

Dawn Carter, director of early careers for Mountain View, Calif.-based technology products firm Intuit, said organizations should not recruit only at the highest-rated colleges. "Employers should be casting a wider net. A student can go to a state school and still get an amazing education," she said. "We look for the top 5 percent of students from any school."

She said that even large employers continue to tweak their approaches to college recruiting. "Be creative and bold," Carter suggested. "We experiment a lot. It doesn't always work."

Steve Bates is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area.

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