In light of favorable unemployment numbers and economic growth prospects in Wisconsin and throughout the country, economists are saying the job market is favorable for college graduates.

In Wisconsin, the unemployment is at 3 percent for the ninth month in a row, a state record. Additionally, private sector jobs are up by 32,000 from the previous year.

Scott Hodek, an economist with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, is optimistic about the prospects for recent graduates.

“The outlook is very favorable — probably the most favorable we have seen in a very long time,” Hodek said.

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Hodek said there are two main factors contributing to the favorable economic outlook for recent college graduates.

The first factor is that the United States has enjoyed a growing economy since the Great Recession. While the rate of economic growth has not been as high as that seen during the 1990s, which saw as much as 5 percent gross domestic product growth per year, there has been 3 to 4 percent GDP growth in recent years.

The second factor contributing to the favorable economic outlook is aging demographics, Hodek said. The “baby boomers” were the largest generation America has ever seen, and now that group is retiring. Hodek said economists initially started to see some of that generation retiring around the Great Recession, but that number has grown even larger as of late, with the trend continuing to intensify.

“If you look at things in terms of occupations, you always see new jobs added,” Hodek said. “But in addition, the number of jobs from these retirees that need to be filled dwarf even the new positions. So, even in industries that are not necessarily growing or are mature and have hit a stable employment level depending on occupation, you still see a lot of openings.”

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Hodek further explained that these job openings have manifested themselves in fields like education and protective services, like police and firefighters.

Nathan Barker, director of marketing and communications at SuccessWorks, said the favorable economic conditions in Wisconsin are only part of the equation in the optimistic prospects for University of Wisconsin graduates. Opportunities offered by the university to develop career-related skills can’t be overlooked in the success enjoyed by UW students’ after graduation, Barker said.

UW hears from companies in Wisconsin and around the country that they want more students with well-rounded skills, Baker said. The university makes efforts to help students develop those skills, with SuccessWorks as a branch of that effort for the College of Letters and Science.

“If a student graduates with just the education, with just the academics, a lot of times what they lack is the experience they need to have tried out different careers or to be ready for an entry-level job on day one,” Barker said. “So what we emphasize with students is that by engaging with SuccessWorks early on through our programs, through events, through internships that we can help connect students to, students are going to get that necessary experience so by the time they graduate, they can hit the workforce with confidence and with a sense of what kinds of opportunities they want to go out and seize.” 

Hodek also commented on the immense opportunity the generation currently graduating from college will have for moving up once they find work, as positions held by older generations are being vacated.

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Hodek said much of what makes a recent graduate stand out for promotion is “non-routine … skills” like decisiveness, critical thinking, adaptability and flexibility — skills that best fit the “exponential” rate of change in the technology-dominated workplace, Hodek said.

Additionally, Hodek said focusing on the ability to “get in there and keep learning” will make a college graduate’s chances for promotion better.

“This generation will see promotional opportunities, the likes of which we have never seen,” Hodek said.