Jobs for Grads

June 2, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: For more about new graduates and the job market, we get four perspectives: Marilyn Mackes is executive director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers; Bill Carson is the director of the Center for Career Development at Morgan State University in Baltimore; Jeffrey Skilling is president and chief operating officer of Enron, a global energy and communications company; Ken Ramberg is co-founder of, a job listing Web site for college students and alumni. Well, Marilyn Mackes, is what you’re seeing from around the country pretty much lining up with what we saw in the little corner of Oregon?

MARILYN MACKES, National Association of Colleges & Employers: Absolutely. It was wonderful to see those students and what they’re looking at. It reinforces the statistics that we’ve been gathering in our surveys that talk about these candidates who really have the vision for their own future, managing their own careers and looking at some great opportunities that are out there in the marketplace.

Great opportunities in the marketplace

RAY SUAREZ: And what about the stories we heard earlier in tonight’s newscast about a softening in demand for new employees, an increase in the jobless roles. Could this have ripples, one or two quarters down the road, maybe at the end of the year?

MARILYN MACKES: I think we certainly need to be aware of the fact that this coming… this coming recruiting session we’re coming up upon may in fact be a bit more conservative. But I have to admit that in the surveys we’ve done with employers looking for fresh talent, they’re still pretty aggressive out there. We haven’t seen strong signs that they’re pulling back.

RAY SUAREZ: Jeff Skilling, are you hiring?

JEFFREY SKILLING, President, Enron Corporation: We absolutely are hiring. We have a lot of business.

RAY SUAREZ: At all levels, bringing people in mid-career or are you stressing those people who are just starting out because you can sort of mold them into the Enron way?

JEFFREY SKILLING: Well, we hire at all levels within the company. But we have a very aggressive program for hiring from undergraduate schools and graduate schools. So we pick them up at all levels to meet our needs.

RAY SUAREZ: We saw in Lee Hochberg’s reports about people talking about higher up front costs — one new graduate saying she wants a company that’s going to invest in her. That sound about right to you?

JEFFREY SKILLING: There is no question that what people are looking for today, they’re looking for an opportunity to create additional skills. So in their entire time with the company, you have to be investing with them to help them expand their capabilities.

RAY SUAREZ: So, Bill Carson, how are your new graduates doing? Are many of them placed already?

BILL CARSON, Morgan State University: I was pleased to see that out of 544 students that we surveyed prior to commencement, that a little better than half of those already reported that they had employment. That’s higher than it has been in previous years. Normally we look for that kind of rate three to six months after graduation. So I was happy with those numbers coming in.

RAY SUAREZ: So does that raise the bar for what you’ll be booking at in September and October?

BILL CARSON: It does raise the bar. I am a bit concerned about the latest employment figures. Like Marilyn said, I suspect that the recruiting year for September and October may look a little different, but we’re optimistic that there will be some changes and we’ll leave the bar where it is and we’ll continue to see if we can do the same thing again next year.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Ken Ramberg, that report gave us the idea that if you’re heading out into the world with skills, it’s a seller’s market. You can set the price. Is that true in a lot of professions or a favored few?

KEN RAMBERG, We’re finding that across the board with college students. As you mentioned in your earlier report the Job Track Index saw 40% increase in the number of jobs that were posted this year, in April, compared to 1999 in April. And we haven’t seen a lessening of the demand for college students at this point. The competition is fierce among employers for the student market and the students are able to call many of their own shots.

RAY SUAREZ: And you agree?

BILL CARSON: Yes, I agree. One of the things that’s happening, especially with the liberal arts students… as they improve their knowledge of computer technology, they also become a lot more marketable, because they now can go into the job market with not only good communication skills but now they have a knowledge of computer technology. Those are the skills…

RAY SUAREZ: You’re saying they don’t have to be experts then, because you read in the papers about Stanford grads commanding big sums, a car, a signing bonus but you don’t have to have that rarefied computer tech skill to be considered computer literate and get that into the job market?

BILL CARSON: There are levels of computer literacy. Obviously you won’t hire a liberal arts graduate to go in and write html or some of the other languages like that. However, will you look for students to have computer skills because most of the workplace now requires some knowledge of computer technology. And we have graduates that are finishing entering the job market with those skills.

Companies providing good employee experience’s

RAY SUAREZ: Marilyn?

MARILYN MACKES: If I may add, I think that what we’re seeing is that the supply is just so limited for people that have those capabilities, that because the nature of the competition in the employment world, they’re having to look to providing some training for those candidates to come in and perform. I think we’re going to continue to see that because we’re not seeing dramatic increases in enrollment in areas like computer science and information systems. So we’re going to have to source those kinds of candidates in other ways. The other thing I would like to add is that I think there’s a lot of emphasis in our environment right now about growth in the dot com area and in high technology and there is no doubt about it, that that’s true. But if you look at some of the surveys that NASE has done, what we see is that there are a number of… it’s really across all sectors, the services sectors, even in manufacturing and production, we’re seeing growth in opportunity. For example, some of the traditional engineering that you might not necessarily see in the dot com world are also experiencing growth as are economics and finance, accounting as well as service areas like retail. So it really, you know, it is across the board.

RAY SUAREZ: Jeff Skilling, let’s talk a little bit about how mature established company looks at this job market. We hear college advisors telling people, oh, look, if you want to get the cream of the crop, you have to get in there early with internships in the sophomore and junior year, start tracking talent early. But then we heard in a report a young fellow talking about how in a couple of years he would decide whether he wanted to stick with this or not. Is there a point at which the cost of identifying, bringing in and then training people becomes a little frightening when you think, well, they may leave us?

JEFFREY SKILLING: Well, I think it’s incumbent on the companies to provide a good employment experience when people come in, then you’ll keep them. Our experience has been that when people, the really talented people, people that are smart and can make things happen, they want to be able to contribute. You’ve got to have an environment where they can contribute, where they continue to grow. If you can provide that sort of environment, they’ll stay the next five years. They’ll go through the five years and at the end of the five years, they haven’t had an opportunity to contribute, sure they will leave and go somewhere else. It is incumbent on the companies to be sure to give them an experience that’s good. And if you give them a good experience and give them an opportunity to show what they can do, at the end of the five years they’ll sign up again.

RAY SUAREZ: Ken Ramberg, go ahead.

KEN RAMBERG: We recently polled students and found that 78 percent of them expect to stay with their first employer for three years or less. It’s absolutely incumbent on employers to give that new grad an experience that will entice them to stay at that company.

JEFFREY SKILLING: And I think your point about the cost is true. It’s expensive to get good talent, so it makes good business sense to make sure when you get the talented, you use it well and you give those people the opportunities they want to expand their capabilities, continue to build their knowledge and in some ways, you try to give them an opportunity to be more marketable at the end of their time with the company than when they come in. As long as you can keep doing that, they stay around.

MARILYN MACKES: Yeah. I think one of the things we’ve learned from surveying employers this year is they’ve identified obviously that the competition for the candidates is their number one concern. You know, but tied to that is not just competition for recruiting them, but for retaining them. And I can only reinforce this idea that the young lady who talked about, you know, I want to work for organization that’s going to develop me, that is the number one priority in the surveys we’ve done with students. They want to have… they own their own careers. They want to be able to develop their own portfolio. They know they’re going to be doing that within an organization. But they feel that they want to be able to develop themselves as opposed to the organization controlling them.

RAY SUAREZ: Bill Carson, you’re dealing with a largely minority student body —


RAY SUAREZ: — and graduating class. How has the outlook changed for them now that we’re getting reports of the lowest ever minority unemployment?

BILL CARSON: One of the things I indicated that I see — a larger percentage of my graduating class that has employment reported already. So that’s one of the indicators. But I also believe that as more organizations are stepping up to the plate and are continuing to diversify their work force as well as understanding that many more minorities are in the work force now and that they are I think quickly becoming the majority in many occupational areas, it will continue to look good for the minority students that are in colleges and universities.

RAY SUAREZ: Especially those with the specialist training like engineers and so on?

New grads: Jobs as fun?

BILL CARSON: Exactly. One of the things Marilyn mentioned a minute ago and I hear in the conversation is that over the past few years, I see the attitude of many students, instead of looking for careers now, they’re looking at jobs again and they see the job as a stepping stone to preparing for a career rather than looking at one organization to develop the career. So I think it is to the advantage of any organization to try to, as quickly as possible, give that new college graduate as much responsibility as they can handle — keep their work exciting and fun and help them to understand how they’re contributing to the overall objective of the organization. Keep it exciting. And I think they will be able to retain the new employees.

RAY SUAREZ: Fun isn’t a word I necessarily associated with my first couple of jobs.

BILL CARSON: Exactly, but students today, they’re looking for jobs that are fun.

MARILYN MACKES: Yes, they are.

BILL CARSON: If it’s not fun, Marilyn…


BILL CARSON: If it’s not fun, they don’t want to do it.

MARILYN MACKES: That’s right.

KEN RAMBERG: They want to be able to balance their work and personal life. That’s a big concern of the students these days. It’s not all work. But they want some time to spend with their families and friends. One student said they’ll work 18 hours as long as they can pick which 18 hours those are a day.

MARILYN MACKES: Right. And I think ideally, you know, and realistically, I’ll say this, Bill’s point about the fact that they want their work to be enjoyable. In fact that’s what they’re telling us. Compensation is very important to them, and clearly the salary statistics you’ve heard on this report tell us that, you know, because of it being so competitive, the salaries have really been going up. But what the students tell us is the most important criteria for them is they make their employment decisions is enjoying the work they’re going to do. That has to do with being fun.

RAY SUAREZ: But is there the danger of unreasonably high expectations? When you talk about things like fun and hear big salary numbers being thrown around, often entry-level jobs in many companies, well, they’re not quite that fun. The fun jobs are a little higher-up the ladder.

BILL CARSON: Except the good has to outweigh the bad. If there is a high percentage of the work that is fun, then they’ll accept the grunt work, but don’t make it the other way around.

MARILYN MACKES: I think also that it’s incumbent upon the employers to offer a realistic picture of what they’re going to offer candidates. Let’s face it, in a competitive market, we sometimes hear employers presenting a picture that may not be as realistic so that they can get the best and the brightest. I’m not suggesting that all are doing that. But we do know that sometimes what they may be presenting, projecting on their campus visits and their information sessions may be a little bit beyond what the student is going to enjoy on the job.

RAY SUAREZ: Let me bring in Jeff Skilling at that point. How do you keep from doing that?

JEFFREY SKILLING: I don’t think you can do that. What we’re seeing now is if a student has a bad experience or new employee has a bad experience, that gets disseminated onto Web sites around the country. So, I don’t think people can get away with that for a period of time. You have to make sure the company is structured in a way that people have the opportunity to contribute. We have a low turnover rate in our company. I’m convinced the reason for that is that people have lots of opportunities. We make it easy for people to move into different opportunities. Maybe they get into one job or one position that they’re not real happy in, make it easy for them to move into something they like. Over time people gravitate to areas where they really can contribute. Then they feel good and they stick around.

MARILYN MACKES: I think the other thing we’ve seen employers are doing a much more effective job at is informing students much earlier than their senior year about the opportunities that are there. In addition to sharing that information, they’re engaging them. So we know, for example, between 95 and 100 percent of the students are having some form of experiential learning before they get to their first entry-level job. They’ve had an internship, summer job, co-operative education experience. Obviously that’s a great pre-recruiting tool for employers as well.

RAY SUAREZ: Guests, thank you all for giving us that picture of the job market. Thanks a lot.