Opportunity knocks loudly for grads
With low unemployment, Colorado companies hunger for qualified applicants.
By Amanda Miller
With a tight job market and wages on the rise, this spring’s graduates can hit the ground running in their new careers.
“We’re seeing strong job growth in Colorado,” said Ryan Gedney, senior economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. “It’s a tight labor market right now.”
The state’s unemployment rate was 3 percent in March, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, with Colorado outperforming the U.S. average of 4.1 percent.
Overall, graduating Roadrunners can expect bigger paychecks in addition to the benefits of being courted by recruiters. Economists have tracked rising pay over the past year.
“Wage gains have been fairly sluggish in the economic recovery since the Great Recession in 2009-2010,” Gedney said. “Finally in 2017, we’re seeing decent gains. We’re also seeing some of those gains realized in the nation.”
Colorado wage growth in 2017 was likely around 4.1 percent — the figures aren’t seasonally adjusted — which Gedney said would be the strongest one-year wage growth in Colorado since 2006-07, before the Great Recession hit.
“It also outpaces what we’re seeing for inflation, hovering around 2.5 (percent) to 3 percent. That means people are realizing some real wage gains,” Gedney said.
Bridgette Coble, Ph.D., director of Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Career Services, concurred.
“I think it’s a good time to be looking for a job with a college degree,” Coble said.
Her office helps Roadrunners get a head start on career planning and connect with employers closer to graduation.
The job market looks bright, she said, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.
“The challenge for some of our college graduates is that Colorado is a pretty well-educated state,” Coble said.
So sometimes new grads need to look out of state, too. Meanwhile, she’s noticed a new trend in Career Services — more students going in for help earlier in their college years.
“People on campus are having conversations with people earlier,” she said. “It’s a great thing that’s happening.”
Still, she said, “we have a very long way to go to get all students engaged in early planning.”
New grads’ bright prospects could reflect the economy.
“Those who graduated coming out into the Great Recession had a real tough time finding work,” Gedney said. “I think college graduates now are in a very good position to kick-start their career. … It may change two or three years from now, but in our current (economic) state, this is a great time to graduate from school. … It’s really the brightest labor market we’ve seen since the dot-com boom.”
Colorado added 62,200 jobs from March 2017 to March 2018, or 2.4 percent, topping 2.7 million nonfarm-payroll jobs. That percentage approximately tied Texas and trailed only Utah (3.3 percent), Nevada (2.9 percent) and Washington (2.8 percent).
Getting a degree alone is likely to brighten new grads’ career outlook.
Among people 25 and older, the unemployment rate was 2.5 percent nationwide for those with a bachelor’s degree in 2017 but 4.6 percent with only a high school diploma. Plus higher pay with a bachelor’s degree can add up, according to the Census Bureau. The same bachelor’s-degree holders nationwide earned $1,173 per week, versus the $712 per week earned by those with just a high school diploma.
Gedney said job growth in Colorado has been “broad-based” across industries. In terms of raw numbers, some of the major industries adding the most jobs in Colorado were leisure and hospitality (11,000 more jobs), construction (10,900) and professional and business services, including Colorado’s tech industry (9,400). In construction, that amounted to the biggest bump at 5.4 percent.
And there’s another bright spot to having that diploma, Gedney said: “It helps you withstand some of the recessionary pressure we’ve seen historically.”
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