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Retiring baby boomers create openings for new grads

February 4, 2008

Michelle Scheidt won't graduate from Purdue University until May, but she already has lined up a job as a regulatory affairs engineer with GE Healthcare in Milwaukee. The 22-year-old's starting salary will be $62,000.

Scheidt, a biomedical engineering major, could have accepted another job offer from a North Carolina power-generation firm that would have paid about the same salary for a sales-and-marketing position.

"It didn't seem hard at all finding a job," Scheidt said. "And there was no negotiating on my part for that [salary]. I have a lot of peace about it and am really excited."

Despite mounting concern that housing woes are pushing the nation's economy into a recession, Scheidt's experience is not unusual.

Students donning caps and gowns this May will find jobs aplenty, college career officers and others say. Some industries--like health care, accounting, engineering, computer science and sales--are more flush with jobs than others. But students receiving liberal arts degrees also are in high demand because of their well-rounded education.

The reason for the bright outlook?

"Baby boomers are getting ready to leave, so companies need the best and brightest to replace them," said Susie Clarke, director of undergraduate services at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business. "There will be a strong need in the next 10 years, so companies need to have a strong pipeline of employees."

Indeed, the first wave of baby boomers--people born from 1946 to 1964--are hitting retirement. And over the next two decades, 78 million boomers will exit the work force.

To fill the void, more employers than ever are descending on college campuses in Indiana and elsewhere to attend job fairs and recruit students.

A study released in November by the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that companies expect to increase hiring on college campuses 16 percent this year.

"Interviewing has been so robust that it's probably easier to look at areas that aren't visible on campus," said Tim Luzader, director of Purdue's Center for Career Opportunities. "The kinds of employers we're not seeing on campus are those that don't hire in greater numbers, but only two or three at a time," he said. "So no museums, publishers, etc. But that doesn't mean the jobs aren't there. Grads just have to search for those jobs differently."

IU's fall job fairs attracted about 10 percent more companies this year than a year ago, Clarke said. "Competition among companies is really fierce," she said. Colleges throughout the state see the same trend.

"This semester is the strongest so far," said Gary Beaulieu, director of career planning and development at Butler University.

The number of companies recruiting at the University of Southern Indiana is up nearly one-third over last year, said Phil Parker, director of career services and placement at the Evansville school.

"I'm upbeat about our students' finding jobs ... in spite of what we see in the reports nationally about the economy," he said.

One of the hottest jobs is registered nurse, which topped the Indiana Department of Workforce Development's recent ranking of Hoosier Hot 50 Jobs for 2008.

"We place 100 percent of our grads, instantly," said Mary McHugh, dean of nursing at the University of Indianapolis. "There's a tremendous need for nurses. Sometimes, juniors have a job. There's no waiting period for them or having to leave the state."

McHugh expects that all 70 nursing students slated to graduate this May will have jobs by the time they pick up their diplomas.

Accounting is another hot industry. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers' most-sought-after degree nationally is a bachelor's in accounting.

"It's a good time to be an accounting student coming out of college," said Mike Becher, managing partner of the Indianapolis office of Deloitte & Touche, a public accounting firm. "Generally speaking, the number of people hiring accounting grads will be up from last year."

Driving demand are increasingly complex accounting rules. In addition, corporations beefed up internal controls in the wake of high-profile financial scandals in the late 1990s and early this decade.

Even though it's a job-seekers market, employers are upping their expectations, university officials say. Graduates without an internship or two might face the toughest hurdles.

"Companies would prefer to interview students over summer internships as a trial period," McHugh said. "Then, many hire from their intern pool. So now companies are actually looking at younger students, saying, 'Maybe we need to go after them earlier, like in their sophomore year.'"

Scheidt, the Purdue engineering grad, had a marketing internship for a startup company in Florida last year. She also opted to stay in school a fifth year and add a minor in business management and an entrepreneurial certificate to her engineering degree. And she launched her job search early.

"I had a goal of getting interviews out of the way before starting my last year," Scheidt said. "Lots of students postpone that to their last semester, but it's stressful and time-consuming then."

With a job out of the way, her biggest worry is acing finals, and making good on her promise to show up for work.

"I have a '97 Chevy Cavalier. I just hope it makes it up to Milwaukee. But my parents are really excited that I can make car payments on my own now so I plan to buy something new after I get there," she said.

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