Tight job market squeezes out this summer's grads
By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer
Robin Jones came to the University of Hawai'i on a water polo scholarship and graduated in May with a sociology degree.
She could keep looking for social work opportunities, but her temporary job is pushing her to consider teaching or going back to school as a graduate student.
She wants to stay in Hawai'i, but Jones, 23, of Makiki, says she's afraid if she doesn't find something permanent soon, her parents will want her to move back to Long Beach, Calif.
Her future is as uncertain as the economy.
"If you want to be a secretary, there's an abundance of that," said Jones, an avid reader of the classifieds. "But even if you want to work at The Gap, they say they want experience."
Jones is among the tide of more than a million recent college graduates facing the tightest job market for their demographic bracket since 1994, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
It is a cruel summer for the class of 2002. These new job seekers are dealing with the economic fallout of Sept. 11, the backlash of the dot-com boom and stiff competition from more than 2 million laid-off workers ready to fill jobs that might otherwise have been left to them.
While grads who majored in high-demand fields such as accounting and healthcare are finding jobs easily, others are struggling to find work to match their degrees.
Employers expect to hire 36 percent fewer college graduates than last year, according to an annual survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The survey said 79 percent of colleges reported a decrease this year in the number of companies recruiting on their campuses.
Marketability a plus
O'ahu Big Island Kaua'i Maui Source: The Hawai'i State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations' Workforce Development Division
Jobs in demand in Hawai'i
Source: The Hawai'i State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations' Workforce Development Division
"For every job, there's 100 applications," said Chris Cruthers, senior employment counselor at Employment Specialists in Honolulu.
Those entering the job market fresh out of college can expect a starting salary of $18,000 to $20,000 in Hawai'i, she said, and she advises recent grads to make themselves marketable by learning what employers want and filling that need, whether it's learning a computer program or other skill.
Still, Cruthers and other knowledgeable people, such as Pearl Imada Iboshi, the state's chief economist, said things are looking up.
"There's expectation for a turnaround," Iboshi said. "As the economy strengthens, then things should improve."
Revenne Krigger, a liberal studies and pre-law major, is waiting for signs that the job market is loosening up. She graduated from UH in May. Then she picked up a summer class so she could remain eligible for her on-campus job while she searches for something more substantial.
Her temporary job doing part-time clerical work leaves half the day free for her job search. She has perused the classifieds and online job boards, faxed and mailed resumés but still has come up short in her goal of getting her foot in the door at a law firm.
"I'm pretty optimistic, otherwise I wouldn't have lasted this long," said Krigger, 23, of Manoa. "But it's frustrating because I started looking for a job before I graduated."
The key for job seekers is to be flexible, said Luana Brown, personnel manager for Snelling Personnel Services in Honolulu.
Brown said she's seeing more companies hiring since the Sept. 11 slowdown, but employers are paying less for more qualified candidates.
Less can be more
Recent grads who are willing to take less glamorous jobs just to get some experience are better off than those holding out for high salaries and signing bonuses, she said.
That's what worked for David Dias, 23, who moved to Kaimuki from Seattle this spring so he could study at Kapi'olani Community College to be a high school special-education teacher.
He surfed the Internet and found plenty of jobs listed on jobshawaii .com.
"Basically, I was looking for anything," said Dias, who saw an opening for a part-time receptionist at the front desk of a senior assisted-living condominium and ended up taking the job.
Not only did he find a family atmosphere there, he said, but he is making more than minimum wage and is saving money for school.
"Good isn't the word. I had a great experience," he said of his job search. "Everything's positive."
Attitude also is making all the difference for Larson Kiyabu, who is hanging on to a part-time job selling consumer electronics at Sears while he pursues his real goal: finding a marketing job.
Kiyabu, who plans to earn his master's degree in business administration from Hawai'i Pacific University by next year, said he thought he would stay at Sears for six months. It has been 10.
"I am holding out for what will be in my best interest," said Kiyabu, 27, who is saving money living with his parents in Kahalu'u. "My parents said I should get any full-time job just to get benefits, but I don't want to take just anything. I'm worried about how that would look on my resumé."
He remains upbeat and believes more in patience and persistence than feeling sorry for himself.
"I'm optimistic," he said. "No matter what happens, in this state of economy, it can only get better."
Reach Tanya Bricking at 525-8026 or firstname.lastname@example.org.