Job market better for new grads but challenges remain

Kalamazoo County

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Job opportunities for new college graduates may be showing signs of improvement.

With COVID-19 vaccinations increasing and cases in Michigan decreasing, officials with Western Michigan University are seeing more full-time job offers being made sooner this year.

In 2020, many companies held off on hiring or withdrew offers because of the economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

Danialle Baumgardner graduated from Western Michigan University earlier this month and will soon move to Auburn Hills to work for Stellantis, the new parent company of Fiat Chrysler. She has accepted a position to design car interiors.

“It’s really relieving to have a job. I feel really lucky,” Baumgardner said. “I have 10 other students I graduated with that are still looking for jobs. I know people who graduated last year who were promised jobs and then the job didn’t happen because they didn’t have the budget at the time.”

The National Association of Colleges and Employers projects job prospects for new graduates will increase 7.2% this year compared to 2020. 

“This year, we have seen students receiving jobs a little earlier than we did last. We’ve had some early reporting from students, which has been fabulous,” said Daveta Gardner, associate dean of University College at WMU, who oversees the Career and Student Employment Service Office.

New WMU graduate Mike Powell will move to Arizona to work in human resources for Amazon. When his internship with the company went virtual, he was not sure if he would be able to build strong connections and show off his skills enough to transition to a full-time opportunity.

“I was supposed to go to Las Vegas and do it there at a fulfillment center, however, once COVID hit, it was all in jeopardy,” Powell said.

WMU had to pivot to virtual job fairs when the pandemic hit. While some may have been concerned about their effectiveness, WMU saw more students getting involved in its career readiness programs, according to Ewa Urban, co-director of Career and Student Services.

“In the past we saw maybe 26% of our campus was engaged in career development activities but now, this year, it’s about 40% to 43%,” Urban said.

Despite the positive signs, job losses during the pandemic can pose additional challenges for new graduates competing for openings.

“The search is a little bit more competitive right now because so many people were laid off, so not only do you have graduates going out into the world and trying to find a job, you also have people that have been working looking for jobs again,” Baumgardner said.

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