May 26, 2014 at 1:00 am

Hiring outlook brighter for college grads

Survey finds companies looking to boost recruiting efforts

America’s jobs machine finally may be churning out jobs for new college grads.

That is particularly true for students who majored in math or science, though the number of jobs available in those fields varies greatly from state to state.

Some 64 percent of hiring professionals surveyed by the Chicago-based consulting company Challenger, Gray & Christmas last month said that their companies plan to recruit from the pool of 1.8 million college graduates who will enter the job market this spring. Employers in February had about 4.2 million unfilled jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Last year, graduates with degrees in math and science had two times as many entry-level jobs to apply for than students with other majors, primarily because not as many students are pursuing these degrees. On a per capita basis, Colorado topped the list in math- and science-related job openings in 2013, while Mississippi was last, according to data released this year from a labor market consultant group Burning Glass Technologies, based in Boston.

After Colorado, states that had the most entry-level jobs in science, technology, engineering and math per capita last year were Alaska, Massachusetts, Washington state and Maine.

Jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, commonly called STEM jobs, tend to offer higher pay. The average advertised salary for entry-level STEM jobs requiring at least a bachelor’s degree is more than $66,000, compared to $52,000 for other jobs, Burning Glass Technologies said.

Overall, starting salaries for 2014 graduates have increased 1.2 percent from a year ago, the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported last month. The biggest jump occurred in health sciences, where salaries increased 3.7 percent, the group said.

The latest jobs report released last week showed the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 6.3 percent in April. Private-sector employment in March surpassed the pre-recession peak. Though the unemployment rate for 20- to 29-year-olds who graduated from college in 2013 was still 10.9 percent, that figure was down from 15.5 percent in 2009 when the recession was ending, the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show.

“All of these trends bode well for those entering the job market this spring,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Not everyone is so optimistic. Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, doubts that the economy has really turned around for young college grads. “Since the unemployment rate of young college graduates remains significantly elevated, the class of 2014 will join a sizable backlog of unemployed college graduates from the last five graduating classes in an extremely difficult job market,” Shierholz said in a new report.

The number of STEM jobs available in each state were gleaned from the 2014 analysis of entry-level jobs posted on more than 32,000 online websites last year by Burning Glass Technologies. Since up to 90 percent of job openings for college-educated workers are posted online, looking at online job postings provides information on the types of jobs that employers are seeking to fill and where .

Colorado, with a labor force of 2.4 million, has a rapidly emerging information technology sector to complement a strong base of defense contractors with large STEM workforces and robust manufacturing and health care sectors, said Matthew M. Sigelman, chief executive officer at Burning Glass Technologies. More than 152,000 STEM jobs were posted in Colorado last year, of which nearly 44,000 were entry-level.

Alaska’s health care industry exerts an outsized influence on the state’s job market. In 2013, this sector’s openings constituted 21 percent of all postings in Alaska, while health care accounted for only 15 percent of all postings in the United States, he said. Of the 20,000 total STEM jobs posted last year, more than 13,000 were related to heath care. Alaska’s labor force topped nearly 360,000 in March.

Degree-job disparities

Sigelman said many more good jobs involve math and science skills but are often not considered traditional STEM jobs, including many in health care, which can require substantial biological sciences knowledge. And the math skills demanded for many business and data analysts are in far greater demand than the traditional math roles for statisticians and actuaries.

Of all the entry-level jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher last year, nearly half were in fields that required math and science. But less than 30 percent of the bachelor degrees earned were in the sciences and math, Sigelman said.

Each new four-year graduate in STEM fields has access to 2.5 entry-level job postings, compared to 1.1 postings for each bachelor’s degree graduate not in math or science, he said.

Health care accounts for the largest portion of entry-level postings, with an average salary of $70,000; followed by IT, with an average salary of $62,000; engineering and advanced manufacturing, with an average salary of just under $62,000, Burning Glass Technologies said.

California, with a labor force of nearly 19 million, ranks 25th on Sigelman’s list for entry-level STEM jobs. The state’s size plays a role but so do other aspects of California’s economy, which is the eighth-largest in the world. “While there is tremendous STEM demand in places such as Silicon Valley and, to a lesser extent, Los Angeles, job demand in California is spread across a large and diversified industrial base,” he said.

In raw numbers of all entry-level STEM posting jobs, California was first in 2013 with nearly 166,000 while Colorado ranked 10th. Rounding out the top five were Texas (105,000), New York (71,000), Florida (65,000) and Illinois (57,000).

Of all job openings, software developers are the most in demand, followed by information technology professionals, sales representatives and registered nurses, according to an April report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

There were 3.7 million job openings each month in 2013, up from 2.3 million at the height of the recession, the university said.

White-collar prospects

More than 30 percent of online job openings for college graduates in 2013 were in white-collar professional jobs and another 28 percent in STEM jobs. These two sectors together account for more than 1.1 million job openings of the 1.9 million total online job ads last year for college graduates.

“As the economy continues to recover from the recession, employers are looking for college graduates who can fill jobs in STEM, management and professional fields,” said Tamara Jayasundera, a co-author of the report.

Certain majors have shown much grimmer unemployment rates than others. Political science, film and photography, anthropology and architecture majors all had jobless rates over 11 percent, a 2013 Georgetown study showed. Nursing and elementary education majors had the lowest unemployment rates at about 5 percent, followed by physical fitness, chemistry and finance majors, all under 6 percent.

The number of jobs requiring a math or science background is expected to grow 55 percent faster than other job categories, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But not all is lost for liberal arts graduates.

Liberal arts graduates who studied business, marketing, graphic design or social media will have nearly double the number of jobs available to them compared to liberal arts majors who did not study those subjects. Sigelman said some 1.8 million jobs were available last year to liberal arts graduates in the country’s top 20 largest cities if these graduates also had some kind of specialized training, particularly technical skills. Without the specialized training, only 955,000 traditional entry-level jobs were open to liberal arts graduates, Burning Glass Technologies found.

The government reported this month that the number of unemployed persons, at 9.8 million, decreased by 733,000, one of the strongest showings in the recovery.