Uncertain job market has some college grads nervous about future

Joseph "New New" Adkins
May 19, 2009
Irene Marie Deroche Lajaunie
May 22, 2009
Joseph "New New" Adkins
May 19, 2009
Irene Marie Deroche Lajaunie
May 22, 2009

The higher level of unemployment and the contraction in the number of jobs available nationally have not affected the Tri-parishes significantly, but conditions have worsened enough to make career placement officers at area colleges a bit cautious.

The country has lost at least 1.5 million jobs since last July and, this year, monthly job cuts have not fallen below 100,000, according to statistics from the employment firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The unemployment rate nationally for 20- to 24-year-olds rose from 9.2 percent in March 2008 to 13.9 percent this year. The rate was 10.9 percent for 25- to 29-year-olds.

“My message to graduates is that you can’t sit on your couches and lollygag,” said Kristie Tauzin Goulas, director of Nicholls State University’s Office of Career Services. “You have to go out there and fight.”

“The consensus is (the job market) has slowed down, but they’re still getting jobs,” said Elmy Savoie, public relations director at Fletcher Technical Community College in Houma. “Employers are being more selective in hiring. They want students with more diverse training so they can move them around. They want more in-depth training, not basic training.”

Career placement officers at local colleges pinpointed nursing as the job in highest demand because of a nursing shortage, though welding and machine tools skills are also needed.

Goulas said education graduates are also faring well. “Teachers are definitely going out and finding jobs,” she said.

However, business school graduates are finding their options more limited.

“Some companies are cutting back,” she said.

Medical office assistants, electricians, commercial vehicle operators and marine operations workers were other areas in demand noted by local college job placement officers.

Goulas finds that more students are responding positively and are becoming proactive in their search for jobs.

“Go out there sooner rather than later,” she said, especially for quality employment. “You always have students who wait two months after graduation to look for jobs, while others have looked for jobs since February or March. Students have become smarter about that.”

Students are looking increasingly at attending graduate school in response to cutbacks in the market, she said.

Those wading out into the world outside college, though, may not be able to be as picky as in the recent past.

“It may not be the ideal job, but maybe it’s the company you want to work for,” Goulas said. “You can get your foot in the door, show them your potential. They can still make it, though it may not be the perfect job. They usually don’t get the perfect job right out of college anyway.”

She said any work experience before graduation will aid a resume, even if the experience is not in a student’s degree field.

Culinary skills is the only area experiencing a notable decrease in demand, Goulas said.

Nicholls had to cancel its annual culinary job fair this spring because of low response from restaurants and caterers, she said.

However, private employment companies have noted little change in demand for shipbuilding, fabrication, oilfield-related skills and retail sales work, said Randall Domingue, workforce development manager with The Work Connection.

“This area lives and dies by oil and gas,” Domingue said.

Locally, jobs in the hospitality industry are increasing, he said.

Michael Stein, 18, who finished Terrebonne High School two weeks ago, also completed a two-year dual enrollment program at Fletcher in marine diesel technology.

Stein said he is joining the Navy Reserve, partly because bigger companies are laying off workers.

“They want to hire the best, but they can’t afford it,” he said.

Stein, currently employed at Tri-Parish Coatings and Accessories in Houma, said a few companies like Cummins Diesel and Cenac Towing spoke to students at Fletcher, but his training there will guarantee him a couple of bumps in pay with the Navy Reserve.

“I don’t know anyone in the marine diesel field who’s been laid off,” he said. “It’s a good field to get into.”

Michael Stein, a recent Terrebonne High School graduate who did a dual enrollment at L.E. Fletcher Technical Community College in marine diesel technology, puts the finishing touches on a recoated Jeep. Stein believes his training will guarantee pay increases when he joins the Naval Reserve. “I don’t know anyone in the marine diesel field who’s been laid off,” he said.