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August 29, 2017

Career Service Directors On Metro Atlanta Graduates And The 2017 Workforce

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By Patrick Adcock

With recent graduates entering the workforce and students getting ready for the fall semester, the Metro Atlanta Chamber sat down with career service representatives from three of Georgia’s leading universities to discuss what kind of employment environment these young graduates are moving in to, as well as what on-going services are available to students and graduates alike.

Bridgette McDonald serves as career service director with Clayton State University; Paul G. Fowler, Ph.D., is executive director of the Emory Career Center at Emory University; and Patricia Bazrod is employer relations director with the Center for Career Discovery and Development at the Georgia Tech.

From your point of view, what are the defining characteristics of graduates from the past few years? What skills are they bringing to the table?

Paul G. Fowler – The Liberal Arts skillset has always been the defining characteristic of our Emory graduates. However, we have witnessed a resurgence among prospective employers to place greater value on these skills – critical thinking, problem-solving, analysis, communication, leadership – over the past few years than earlier in the decade.  

Bridgette McDonald – The most defining characteristic of the Clayton State graduate is the experiential learning experience they have while in school here. The university has been very intentional in providing this through our Partnering Academics and Community Engagement and EDGE initiatives.

Patricia Bazrod – Georgia Tech students pursue a wide range of career paths from traditional employment in major corporations, to work with start-ups and non-profits, entrepreneurship, pursuit of graduate studies, professional degree programs and prestigious fellowships. Tech students develop workplace competencies that complement technical skills and academic knowledge.

What are the most in-demand fields in Atlanta?

Fowler – Healthcare, technology, nonprofit/government, IB/consulting, and media.  These have been fairly stable over the past few years with the exception of growth in the media industry.

McDonald – The high-demand career fields in Atlanta include healthcare, technology, logistics and film. Clayton State provides highly recruited talent in each of these areas, which speaks to the relevancy of our programs as it pertains to supporting our workforce needs. Our connection to the $7.5 billion film industry is one example with our academic program that includes Georgia Film Academy certification.

Bazrod – From Georgia Tech’s perspective: engineering, technology, healthcare, consulting, government, start-ups, lab sciences and nonprofits.

Conversely, what are people coming to school to learn? Have you seen any changes in the past three years in the degrees being pursued?

Fowler – The number of students planning to eventually enter law school has dramatically dropped in recent years as a result of the oversaturation of the legal industry. Our entering students intending to major in the sciences, in advance of pursuing medical school, remains roughly half the entering class (albeit that number drops off substantially once the students arrive and explore all their academic and career options). The greatest increase has come in the math and quantitative sciences majors.

McDonald – With healthcare being one of the top high-demand career fields, it is no surprise that one of the most popular majors at Clayton State is nursing. Overall, the most popular majors at Clayton State have not changed much over the last three to five years. Healthcare, psychology and human services, business, technology and biology have been our top five degrees pursued and awarded.

Bazrod – Engineering degrees still comprise the largest student population for Georgia Tech. Within engineering, biomedical engineering has steadily grown. The quantitative and computational finance degree continues to grow at the master’s level, which combines, industrial engineering, mathematics and finance. Computer science degrees are in high demand, and the demand has steadily increased in the past three years.

Are students staying in Atlanta after their graduation?

Fowler – Historically, 35-40 percent of graduates have opted to pursue careers in the metro Atlanta region upon graduation.

McDonald – More than 85 percent of Clayton State graduates are working and living in the metro Atlanta region. It’s great to see our alumni achieving success right here in their communities.

Bazrod – Historically 40 to 43.4 percent stay in Atlanta.

How many graduates find work after school in the fields that they studied?

Fowler – Ninety percent of the college graduates and 95 percent of the BBA graduates were fully resolved (job, graduate school, gap year, military, etc.) within three months of graduation in 2016, and current reports for the class of 2017 indicate an equally positive resolution rate.

McDonald – Many of our pre-professional graduates who are seeking work find employment in their fields of study (nursing, dental-hygiene, teacher education, accounting, IT/CS). Around 42 percent of our additional graduates working at graduation reported that their jobs required a degree that was related to their field of study. (Ed. Data reported from 2016 First Destination Survey.)

Bazrod – 86.8 percent of students who completed the Spring 2017 exit survey had job offers, and 57.2 percent of students who completed the exit survey planned to pursue master’s degrees.

Talk about your own school’s initiatives aimed at helping students find internships/work. Do you offer services post-graduation?

Fowler – We offer comprehensive resources and services that drive the student along a professional development trajectory toward successful post-grad resolution. Ultimately, we work with students to answer four questions: Who Am I? What am I made of? Where am I value-added? Where will I find my niche? Each of these questions hit on discovery of interests, skills and values – and ultimately allowing the student to identify very specific opportunities that best align with their thoughtful and crafted professional aspirations.

We continue to work with the 10 percent of May graduates that are still seeking at the end of the summer and actually serve all alums up to six years post-graduation.

McDonald – Our EDGE (Exploration, Development, Graduation, Employment) Initiative works to ensure that every student acquires hands-on experience that relates to their coursework and career objectives. In addition, our Partnering Academics and Community Engagement (PACE) Initiative focuses on student engagement through community projects, which are integrated into their class curriculum.

The Office of Career Services provides the same level of services to our alumni as we do to our current students. Alumni are eligible to attend workshops, events and receive individual assistance post-graduation. We partner with our Alumni Office to inform our graduates that these services are available to them at no additional cost, which is a major benefit provided on behalf of our university.

Bazrod – Georgia Tech’s Co-op program is over 100 years old and is one of the largest optional programs in the country. Students have opportunities in all majors to pursue a co-op or internship position. Employees posted more than 2,900 unique internship positions within the Center for Career Discovery and Development.

How can students stay realistic in their job search?

Fowler – Persistence and perspective! We advise them to identify the key characteristics they are seeking and to apply to a large swath of opportunities knowing that there will be rejection, but to not underestimate their value. I also ask students how many good job offers can they actually accept – the answer being just one. I explain to students that unlike an exam with 100 questions where success is defined by correctly answering the majority of the questions, they really only need three or four really good job offers for there to be success. If a student applies to 100 good jobs and gets rejected 96 times – it is still a hugely successful job search. Most students struggle with this concept since their whole world for the last 16 years has revolved around a much higher positive outcome percentage defining success.  

McDonald – The number one way students can stay realistic in their job search is to connect with Career Services before graduation. This very simple step can manage a student’s expectations regarding the reality of what is involved in a job search, and it can alleviate a lot of anxiety due to lack of preparation. Unfortunately, too many students think they should begin the job search after graduation. It is our responsibility to reach out and make sure students understand the resources that are available to them.  

Bazrod – Students need to define what the key characteristics are of the positions they seek. By encouraging students to participate in experiential learning programs, undergraduate research, job-shadowing, Capstone Design programs, and volunteer opportunities, students develop their own understanding of what positions they want to pursue.