Plentiful Employment Awaits Class of 2006

By Mara Rose Williams
Knight Ridder

May 21, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tom O'Dea dressed for the hunt.

His tie, perfectly knotted, lay neatly over the buttons on his pressed white shirt. His buffed black shoes complemented his charcoal-gray suit.

The 22-year-old Overland Park, Kan., resident had gone to the University of Kansas Career Center in April seeking something college career counselors say is plentiful this year -- employment.

''I hear there are a lot of available jobs out there," said O'Dea, a marketing major. In fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which has monitored employment availability for college graduates for half a century, reports that the class of 2006 will graduate into the best job market in six years.

With a flood of baby boomers retiring, an economy on the rebound from the post-Sept. 11 slump, and a technology upturn after the 2000 dot-com bust, employers nationwide project they will hire nearly 15 percent more college graduates this year than a year ago. And many of this year's hires will be paid more, too.

Major employers of new college graduates, such as Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Lockheed Martin, project they will fill, respectively, 7,000 and 4,400 entry-level positions with new graduates this year.

In the Kansas City area, Cerner Corp. spokeswoman Kelli Christman said ''more than 50 percent of the company's new hires are entry-level associates who are newly graduated." Cerner recruiters, she said, reported stiff competition this year among employers trying to attract the best graduates.

''We already have started seeing companies offering sign-on bonuses and higher compensation packages," said Pam Webster, corporate recruiting manager for Enterprise.

Lillian Kang, 21, of Overland Park, Kan., ended up landing a financial adviser position with High Pointe Financial Group. ''They found me," Kang said. ''They saw my resume posted on the KU career site and called me."

At the University of Missouri-Kansas City Career Services Center, employers still were calling recently to reach potential employees even though traditionally the college campus recruiting season ends at the beginning of April, said Annette Haynes, manager of career services.

University career center officials expect more students to graduate with jobs this year than in the last two years. In late spring 2005, some 84 percent of the 2,050 university graduates who responded to an online survey left college with jobs. Most of those jobs -- 75 percent -- were in Missouri and paid salaries ranging from $24,000 to $47,200.

Nationally, most job offers are being made to students graduating with degrees and skills in financial services, accounting, engineering, and computer services.

Tony Goss, 22, who graduated recently from UMKC with a bachelor's degree in business administration, found out in April he would be working for Sprint as a financial analyst.

He already was working with First National Mortgage Sources in Overland Park, but an offer from Sprint nearly doubled his salary.

''When I got that offer, I was jumping around like a 5-year-old," said Goss, of Weatherby Lake, Mo.

In addition to its more optimistic hiring forecast for this year's graduates, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found in its 2006 survey of employers that starting salaries will be better, too, particularly in certain fields.

Strong competition for the best graduates has driven starting salaries up in the hottest fields: engineering and business. A good student with a degree in accounting is looking at an annual starting salary of more than $46,000, a jump of more than 5 percent over last year.

In addition to the demographic and financial reasons for an improved job market, specialists credit college students themselves.

According to a CollegeGrad.com survey of employers, how a student interviews is the second-most important factor in getting a job. Number one is what the student majored in, and third is experience.

Their grade-point average, the school they attended, and what they wear to the interview are less important factors.

Who's hiring

Top 10 entry-level employers for 2006:

Employers ... Hires

Enterprise Rent-A-Car ... 7,000
Lockheed Martin ... 4,400
Walgreen ... 4,300
PricewaterhouseCoopers ... 3,817
Deloitte & Touche USA ... 3,500
Ernst & Young ... 3,400
Schlumberger ... 3,000
Department of Agriculture ... 3,000
Hertz ... 2,500
KPMG ... 2,240

Source: CollegeGrad.com

What they're making

Average starting salaries for the college graduating class of 2006 and how much they are up or down from last year's salaries.

Major ... 2006 +/- Percent change Chemical engineering ... $55,900 +4.2
Electrical engineering ... $52,899 +3.5
Mechanical engineering ... $50,672 -0.3
Computer science ... $50,046 -2.0
Accounting ... $45,723 +6.2
Economics/finance ... $45,191 +11.0
Civil engineering ... $44,999 +4.3
Business administration $39,850 +3.9
Marketing ... $36,260 -3.4
Liberal arts ... $30,828 +6.1