New graduates receive diplomas this weekend at the University of Rhode Island. Like grads across the state, they enter a job market showing signs of recovery. But Rhode Island still suffers from one of the worst unemployment rates in the country.
As we continue our series Rising Tide, looking at whether Rhode Island is emerging from the Great Recession, Rhode Island Public Radio’s education reporter Elisabeth Harrison checks in with college students to find out how they view the future.
The job fair. It’s a rite of passage for many college students as the reality sinks in that classes come to an end, and the job market looms ahead.
At the University of Rhode Island career fair hundreds of students and recruiters scout their prospects. Junior Katarina Dufreitas sports a black suit to show she means business.
“I dressed for success,” she said.
Dufreitas is an accounting major, and everyone keeps telling her the jobs will be there when she graduates. But as she waits in line to talk to a potential employer, she’s still nervous.
“But we can’t let them know that!” she said with a laugh.
While some students roam the rows of employer tables looking apprehensive, 21-year-old Miles Goodwin grins broadly.
“I’m a senior and I’m graduating in May, as well, and I already have a job offer on the table, so it’s looking really good,” he said.
Goodwin has accepted a position with a recruiting firm in Massachusetts. He majored in marketing because after starting college in a tight job market, he wanted a degree that would pay dividends.
“At the end of the day, when you look around everything is a business,” said Goodwin. “I felt like, in that aspect, that I could always find a job and that I’ll always be able to do my thing almost and do well.”
Though Goodwin admits he is one of just a few friends who will graduate with a job lined up, he said it feels like more people are hiring. Maureen Boudreau from the health technology company ShapeUp is one of them.
“We have sales positions open; we have account managers open, account implementation managers open, we have a lot of technology positions,” said Boudreau.
ShapeUp is growing, and they’re looking for candidates from a variety of academic backgrounds. Mainly, they want people who can think logically and tackle obstacles.
“What we’re looking for is that spark, that intelligence, that motivation, that piece that makes them a strong employee regardless of what their role is.”
College graduates have always fared better in the job market, even during the Recession. But the numbers suggest that employment is coming back.
The state labor department says Rhode Island has regained 60 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, and at this college career fair, more than 125 employers signed up to participate, more than the university has seen in several years.
“I think it’s much stronger than it’s been in years past and that’s telling just from the attendance at the career fair today,” said Kim Stack ,director of the URI Center for Career and Experiential Education.
In past years, Stack says many companies didn’t bother with a career fair, because they didn’t have the job openings to make it worth it. She also notes there were fewer internships available.
“[That] was unfortunate because we had this gap period of what I would call mentorship or that training for students,” said Stack. “So they were ill prepared going into that employment opportunity not having that partnership with the employer.”
Now, Stack sees more jobs available for recent graduates, especially in technology, engineering and healthcare. A survey of last year’s graduating class showed some 95 percent were either employed or in graduate school.
The number of students doing internships has tripled over the last few years, according to Stack, who also observes that more students are pursuing multiple majors.
Take Senior Ryan Enos, for example. He has a passion for English, but he added a computer science major. Partly because he enjoys it, and because "it's how do they say? Lucrative," said Enos.
Enos has student loans, so he needs an income after he graduates, and he thinks the Recession has affected his thinking about the job market.
“A sense of reality about the economy has tempered my perspective about what is doable,” said Enos.
It’s a sentiment that many student seem to share. Some of them watched their parents or their parents’ friends lose jobs during the Recession. But several years after the downturn, many of them also have a sense of optimism about the future.
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