DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald
DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald
College seniors often approach graduation with a mix of excitement and apprehension, but this year’s class at Fort Lewis College has a tough job market to add the anxiety.
Starting salaries for recent graduates have fallen sharply in the last two years, from $30,000 for those who entered the work force in 2006-2008 to $27,000 for those entering the work force in 2009-2010, according to an article published last spring in The New York Times.
Only half of the jobs landed by new graduates even require a college degree, the article reported.
This is a result of forces in the labor market that are unlikely to change anytime soon, said Robert Sonora, associate professor of economics at FLC.
“A lot of white collar jobs are becoming more mechanized and replacing long-term employees, so people in industries like agriculture and technology are losing work and moving into other areas and competing with new graduates,” Sonora said.
Sonora said employers now have a wider option between employees who are tried and true and graduates who have new skills.
In this respect, new college graduates entering into the job market have an advantage.
“Employers are looking for the ability to look outside the box and think for themselves,” Sonora said. “In the economic time that we live in, employers want employees who can find solutions in times of uncertainty.”
The unemployment rate in Colorado is 7.8 percent, compared with a national unemployment rate of 8.8 percent, according to a February 2012 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Graduates are likely to find themselves moving to where the jobs are.
“With a few exceptions, there is not much open availability in the job market that requires a college education here in Durango,” Sonora said.
One thing remains as true about today’s job market as it was 50 years ago: connections help.
That was the case for 2007 FLC graduate Joel Chambers. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, so after I graduated, I took a few years off to save money and figure it out,” Chambers said. “After a while, I moved to Denver to find the ‘big job,’ and the job market there was extremely competitive.”
After shopping his résumé around and applying “to hundreds of jobs,” Chambers was amazed at the competitiveness.
“I would go to an interview, and there would be five other applicants waiting in the lobby with their résumés,” Chambers recalls. “After so many times, that really takes a psychological toll on you.”
In between jobs in Denver, Chambers heard about an opening at Mercury Payment Systems in Durango. Because he had a good reference within the company, he got the job.
“Having an in and someone who can give you a good reference is a huge plus,” Chambers said. “I was happy to return to Durango.”
Chambers, of Littleton, started in the customer-service department and, after two promotions, now holds the title of account close manager.
“It feels more like a career than a job,” he said. “It’s something that I could see myself doing for a long time.”
Tana Verzuh, career services coordinator for the School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences, said perseverance and a positive attitude go a long way.
“The hardest thing about graduating is conquering the fear of applying for jobs,” Verzuh said. “Students are apprehensive about getting jobs and are worried that they do not have the skills to become good employees. We assure them that they do have the skills.”
Brian Burke, an associate professor of psychology at Fort Lewis College, said, “There are lots of jobs out there; being steadfast and motivated and any student will be able to find professional work.”
T.J. Protho, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology this April, says he is excited despite the obstacles.
“I am optimistic about getting a job in the psychology field,” Protho said. “I think there are a lot of different opportunities out there.”
Although graduate school may be in his future, he first wants to take a few years to save money and get life experience.
Michael Anziano, FLC associate professor and chairman of the Psychology Department, said “about one-third of students in our department continue on to graduate school after they graduate.”
A career as a practicing therapist, which Protho hopes to be one day, requires a minimum of a master’s degree.