WASHINGTON — The consulting and accounting firm EY is aggressively recruiting on college campuses this spring. The company formerly known as Ernst & Young plans to hire 9,000 graduates from U.S. universities this year, up from 7,500 in 2014. But recruiting isn't as easy as it used to be.
"I'm seeing a lot more competition" from rival employers, says Dan Black, EY's Americas recruiting leader.
That's good news for college seniors and graduate students preparing to accept diplomas this spring, and a sign that new graduates will fare better than they did in 2014. The Labor Department reported on Thursday that the unemployment rate for Americans in their 20s who received a four-year or advanced degree last year rose to 12.4 percent from 10.9 percent in 2013.
"This is a real breakout year," said Philip Gardner, director of Michigan State University's Collegiate Employment Research Institute.
In a survey of employers last fall, the employment center found that hiring of graduates with four-year degrees will rise 16 percent this year.
"It's led by the ones you would expect — engineering and business," Gardner said. "But there seems to be a lot of room for everybody... Even arts and humanities are making a comeback."
Employers have more openings to fill because Baby Boomers are retiring and more workers are feeling confident enough about the economy to switch jobs. Overall, the United States generated 3.1 million jobs last year, the most since 1999. The overall unemployment rate has fallen to 5.5 percent in March from 6.7 percent at the end of 2013.
Tyler Etten, 22, had a $54,000-a-year job in finance waiting for him when he graduated from Iowa State University in May 2014. Three months later, he bounced to an even better job with the investment firm Piper Jaffray in Minneapolis. His 3.5 grade point average helped. But Etten says he set himself apart by getting internships, participating in campus clubs and spending his spare time learning financial modeling and advanced Excel skills.
"A degree is not enough with record amounts of people graduating from college," he said.
In particular, employer demand for so-called STEM graduates — in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — is high.
"We can't graduate enough engineers," said Holly Proffitt, employer relations coordinator in the career services office at Arkansas State University.
Still, many recent college grads are struggling and have yet to enjoy a full recovery from the dark days of the Great Recession.
In a report last year, researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that wages for recent college graduates haven't kept up with overall wages since the Great Recession. Between 2007 and 2014, median wages for all full-time workers rose 15 percent. For recent college grads, they rose just 6 percent. The same thing happened after the 2001 recession: College grads' wages lagged behind everyone else's as the economy recovered, the report said.
The Michigan State survey found that 62 percent of employers were planning to keep starting wages flat for college grads compared to last year; 37 percent planned to increase starting salaries. The increases tended to range from 3 percent to 5 percent.
Elizabeth Earl, 22, landed a job at a health care trade publication after graduating from Columbia College Chicago in December. The pay is low and the work tedious, but she's relieved she has a job.
"By the time you get out, you assume you'll be a barista," she said. "It's not idyllic nor at all what I want to do, but it is a job from which I can be getting paid while I consider career paths."
Josh Kelly, 23, is hoping to break into radio or journalism after graduating from Rutgers University in January. In the meantime, he's working at a record store and living with five people in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The job search has proven frustrating, even though he had an internship with a radio company and was president of a student-run radio station.
Kelly said he was disheartened to learn that many companies use algorithms to scan resumes for particular keywords. He thought human recruiters were reviewing his applications, "yet now the picture seems to be that most hiring agents don't necessarily see my resume at all."