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The job outlook for college graduates is roaring, with its highest level of optimism in the labor market since the late 1990s, according to findings of the nation's largest survey of employers, released Thursday.

Conducted by Michigan State University, the survey, Recruiting Trends, showed expanding opportunities in the job market for the ninth consecutive year.

“We’ve never witnessed such a stretch in the 48 years of this report,” said Phil Gardner, survey author and director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute. “The good news is the pace of growth has slowed down so we can sustain it.”

Growth is strongest, according to the report, in construction; professional, business and scientific services; real estate and leasing; transportation; retail trade; educational services; and health services. It’s weakest in manufacturing and wholesale trade.

While the job market is strong, Gardner added that graduates need to be ready.

“Students: This is really good for you,” he said. “But you need to be prepared to engage employers with the right skills and experiences. Otherwise, preferred employers will pass you up.”

The report showed solid fundamentals underlying the economy: over the past year, job expansion has been strong and the unemployment rate is 2 percent for those with a bachelor's degree or more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

About 3,300 employers from every major industrial sector in every state attempted to participate in the survey, with 2.560 providing enough information to be included.

Michigan was among the states providing the highest number of respondents. Others with high response rates included California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas and Wisconsin.

"The employer outlook continues to brighten," according to the report. "The vast majority (93 percent, up 4 percentage points) described the overall new college labor market as good to excellent. About 94 percent (up 4 percentage points) described the new college labor market in their economic sector or segment as good to excellent."

Other findings from the report:

  • Small companies, defined as those with 500 employees or fewer, are recruiting more actively than large companies. Graduates also prefer small companies, which are poised to add almost 25 percent more new college grads than last year.
  • Instead of increasing salaries, employers are spending more on health care for their employees.
  • Hardest jobs to fill are those in nursing, engineering and construction.
  • Employers lament the lack of “soft skills” among college graduates, especially the ability to work with diverse personalities and across different functional areas.
  • Internships are important since employers prefer to hire those with professional experience.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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