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This summer, The John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Brunswick published two research reports on recent high school and college graduates and how they are faring in the workforce. While the picture is not too rosy, the insights are useful, especially when it comes to preparing for life after high school and college.
“Left Out. Forgotten? Recent High School Graduates and the Great Recession” describes the findings of a nationally representative sample of 544 recent high school graduates interviewed in April 2012 from the classes of 2006 through 2011. “The purpose of this study is to understand how recent high school graduates who are not attending college full time are faring in the workforce, specifically looking at those individuals who graduated before and during the difficult labor market caused by the Great Recession,” which officially ran from late 2007 to 2009, states the report. A key finding: “Only three in 10 high school graduates are employed full time, compared to college graduates who are employed at nearly twice that rate.”
The job market is by no means thriving, even for job seekers with college diplomas in-hand. The second study, “Chasing the American Dream: Recent College Graduates and the Great Recession,” interviewed a national sample of 444 graduates of four-year colleges and universities in April 2012. More college graduates are settling for jobs that in years past would have gone to those without degrees, while people in their 30s are now occupying jobs once taken by recent graduates, says Carl Van Horn, professor of public policy and director of The Heldrich Center.
Many students who are struggling to get a job wish they had been more mindful in selecting their college majors. Accounting, engineering, computer science, economics and business administration grads are faring somewhat better in their job searches, according to a separate survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. “About four in ten said they would pick a different major if they could do it again,” Van Horn told New Jersey 101.5 radio. “I think its more important to gather certain skills…whether it’s communicating skills, research, analytical skills, because they’re always in demand in the labor market no matter what your major is,” he added.
Van Horn’s best advice for incoming college freshman, as told to the Chicago Tribune: “ In the past, colleges and universities have treated career development as a junior or senior (year) thing. But that's so 1960s. You really do have to start thinking about this now."
Check out the Resource Corner below for links to both Heldrich Center reports.
If the message is to plan ahead, at least two recent New Jersey high school grads landing on campuses in New Jersey are already thinking critically about their careers.
Eric Principato, a 2012 graduate of Robbinsville High School, is well positioned for his possible career in mechanical engineering. Principato heads off to Princeton University during the first week of September with a $24,000 PSEG engineering scholarship, of which six are given annually to students around the state.
Principato has known for a while that he would like to major in engineering, serving as CEO and Drive Team captain of his school’s Nemesis First Robotics Team. The team made it to the quarterfinals at the Indiana Robotics Invitational this July, which brought together the top 70 international robotics teams.
Meanwhile, Rashon Bennett, valedictorian of Camden High School’s class of 2012, is beginning his college journey this fall driven by a single goal: becoming a lawyer. Bennett headed off to Seton Hall University in South Orange at the end of August to begin his studies and his advance toward law school.
While scholarships are important, so too is the guidance of a mentor, which proved invaluable for Bennett. He met Lloyd Freeman, a litigator at Archer & Greiner law firm in Haddonfield, two years ago and the two have had a mentoring relationship ever since. Bennett, 18, told the Philadelphia Inquirer in late August, “My mentor came from the same background I do. He’s a young African American raised in a single-parent home. And he’s what I want to be.”
When he was starting high school, James Iaccarino knew one thing for sure: He loved to work with his hands. With the help of his parents, he decided to enroll in Middlesex County Vocational-Technical School and explore his many career options in the trades while in high school. It didn’t take long before he found the right match. “One of my buddies suggested I try the machine tool technology shop,” recalls Iaccarino, who lives in Old Bridge. “I went in there the first week and loved it. I was making anything and everything out of metal.”
Iaccarino began developing his skills as a machinist or specialist in machine tool technology. Working from blueprints and their own designs, these technicians produce precision parts for machines from a wide variety of materials. “If you need to make a housing for a bearing or something that has multiple holes and certain shapes, you don’t just put it into a machine and form it,” says Iaccarino, who graduated from Middlesex Vo-Tech this past June. “You need to do the math and figure out the formulas. I work mainly with a CNC computer, which is a “Computer Numerically Controlled,” and draw a program on a software called Mastercam,” which helps in the design of the machine parts.
During his senior year of high school, Iaccarino found a job with Monroe Machine and Design, where he works now making couplings—devices used to connect two shafts together for the purpose of transmitting power—for companies like New Brunswick Scientific, a manufacturer of laboratory equipment. “My boss at Monroe Machine says he is so happy that I found him,” notes Iaccarino. “He needs employees who know what they are doing, drawing programs and running the machines. I work on the computer and I work manually.”
Iaccarino plans to take his career as a machinist as far as possible. “Most kids think college is the only opportunity. That is completely not true,” he says. “I’m making $12.50 an hour just out of high school. Without machinists, car companies can’t make their cars. If you learn a trade, you’re untouchable.”
Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Real People column’s “View All” feature and selecting “James Iaccarino.”
As the recent Heldrich Center report illustrates, college grads don’t have it too easy finding jobs these days. Sometimes the value of related experience, even if it’s not what you had planned for your first foray into the real world, could be that all-important stepping stone to the job of your dreams.
Emily Drake, a 2012 graduate of the University of Rhode Island, has long wanted to live—and work—in New York City. The textile, fashion merchandising and design major made all the right moves in terms of lining up her fashion career: retail work at Anthropologie, internships at a boutique and Providence Fashion Week. Surely, a job at Michael Kors in New York would be hers upon graduation.
Then recession reality hit. “I started looking for jobs throughout senior year and toward the end I had a couple of interviews in the city and nothing came of it,” says Drake. “It’s definitely hard out there. On LinkedIn, you can see which jobs have been applied to the most, which jobs are ‘on fire.’ You see that you’re competing with 500 people. It’s hard to have your résumé stand out from all the others who probably have more experience.”
Still, Drake knows that in this highly competitive job market, any kind of on-the-job training is gold. In June, she accepted a position with Lord & Taylor department store in Bridgewater as the BCBG shop specialist, in charge of clothing sold under the BCBG Generation brand. Different from a sales associate, she runs one section of the store. “I get corporate look books from BCBG headquarters that give information about the clothes and the colors and why they chose the colors for this season,” she says. “They give guidance on how to set up the clothing in the store.”
Drake is happy for the full-time work, but admittedly restless. “It’s a lot of customer service and sales. It’s not what I expected,” she says. “It’s OK because I’m getting some experience.”
Ultimately, Drake hopes to be a buyer for a department store, using her time in retail as insight into customer trends and patterns. New York City, she adds, is “where I need to be.” She hasn’t taken Michael Kors off her prospective employer list. “When I applied to Michael Kors, they said they look for people right out of college because they tend to have more enthusiasm. That was encouraging.”
Read an expanded version of this article by visiting http://www.njnextstop.org, clicking on the Real People column’s “View All” feature and selecting “Emily Drake.”