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Poor job market is affecting all portions of the population

Graduating seniors have uncertain future

Joseph Craven is a graduating senior at Belhaven College in Jackson, one of 1.5 million seniors across the country this year with just days left before they make the walk and get their diploma. The mass communication major from Clinton already has a part-time position at a radio station in Jackson and admits the tightening job market hasn’t got him worried.

“I am not quite feeling the imminent threat. It’s somewhere in the back of my mind, but right now I’m just focused on finishing this last semester,” he says. The national numbers are troubling for this year’s wave of “recession grads.” The National Association of Colleges and Employers is reporting a 22 percent drop in the number of new college graduates scoring jobs. Starting salaries for bachelor degree hires also saw a two percent decline while internship hiring fell 21 percent.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of unemployed Americans increased to 13.2 million in March, an increase of 5.3 million over the past year. Nearly 123,000 of those job hunters live in the Magnolia State. The Wall Street Journal reported April 18 that unemployment rates have surged in 46 states. Twelve of those states, including Mississippi, have higher rates than the national average of 8.5.

The Mississippi Department of Employment Security reports that Mississippi’s unemployment average is resting at 9.4. The highest rate this year is in Holmes County (19.3) and Lamar and Rankin counties are tied for the lowest rate (6.0). Job markets still showing promise are in trade, transportation and education while the largest losses have been recorded in the manufacturing and construction industry.

Nicki Shepard, a coordinator for Belhaven College’s career development office, says there has been an increase in students coming to her and looking for help with their resumes. “This is a very difficult job market to enter,” she says. Shepard says she is spending more time helping undergraduates and even older students in Belhaven’s Aspire adult program who have returned to school to restart future careers. “We are emphasizing transferable skills and ways to sell yourself to the employer,” Shepard says. “We talk about professionalism in everything from your voice mail to your e-mail address. One little error can put you in the reject pile.”

The college’s Business Department held its first “Job Search Boot Camp” March 27, and business professor Dr. Kristena Gaylor says it was well attended. “One of our breakout sessions was a roundtable interview where students could meet with HR people from real companies and get their resumes scanned,” she says. Representatives from Nissan, Southern Farm Bureau, Cellular South, Bomgar and Trustmark attended. Gaylor says that networking is one of the most important steps whether it is done in person or through MySpace or Facebook. “Many students think they have their degree and that a job is just going to happen,” she says, “I tell them that getting a job… is a job.”

Monster.com, the world’s leading online job search engine, reported a decline in online recruitment activity in March with its most favorable projections being in the agriculture, food services and retail industries. On a positive note, Monster’s employment index reports that the East-South Central region is the only U.S. area remaining flat in recruitment activity while Monster’s eight other regions have slackened considerably. Mississippi’s Occupational Employment Projections for 2004-2014 report increasing prospects for the next five years in the fields of marketing, computer information, education, engineering and healthcare. Negative projections are expected to continue in the farming and construction industries.

The Mississippi Governor’s Job Fair has been going strong across the state since 1993 thanks to community participation and the Herculean efforts of Joe Buckner. “I’ve worked for three governors,” says Buckner in between two successful engagements in Biloxi and Batesville, “I’d say this is the first time I’ve done job fairs where at every one the attendance has doubled.” Future fairs are already planned this summer for Pearl, Pascagoula and Vicksburg.

Buckner says that while employer attendance is down this year, there is still plenty of opportunity. “Eighty-four employers attended our Biloxi meeting. 4,157 resumes were submitted and 546 job offers were made the day of the fair,” he says. “I had two people drive all the way from Atlanta. The bottom line for me is that regardless of what people see in the news, there is opportunity and hope… people just need to get after it.”

“I don’t want my life to be limited to a certain career,” Joseph Craven says, adding that his faith and optimism are seeing him through. “I think it’s fantastic how my graduating class hasn’t let the recession sway them. One of my friends is going to medical school at Tulane, another is going to graduate school in Chicago and another is going to work as a Reformed University Fellowship intern at Texas A&M. My generation was raised to be strong-willed. We have the mentality that no matter what happens we are going to persevere. This crisis is just temporary.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Stephen McDill at stephen.mcdill@msbusiness.com.

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