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Breaking in College grads shouldn't get discouraged during job searches

After four — or more — years of study at our institutions of higher learning, school is out for good for the ?Class of 2012. While many graduates plan to seek their fortune in a larger city, or another country, thousands of them want ?to stay here to launch their careers.

The question for these new members of the workforce, and for the region as a whole, is this:

Are there enough jobs — good-paying, challenging and intellectually rewarding jobs — to keep the highly educated young people who want to stay?

"The answer is, absolutely, yes. It's going to take time, it's going to take work," said Alexa Manuel, who graduated this winter from the University at Buffalo and since March has worked as sales and marketing ?coordinator with the PCA Group, a business headquartered in Cheektowaga that provides outsourced information-technology services.

Each year, this region produces a bumper crop of fresh graduates from UB, Buffalo State College and elsewhere.

Those graduates are competing with each other, and with people who have far more experience in the working world, for jobs ranging from supervisory positions to entry-level posts.

The economy has improved since the height of the recession, in 2008 and 2009, but unemployment remains high and it's still not easy to find work.

"Recent graduates that are looking for employment, and want to stay in Western New York, have to utilize every resource that is available to them. They need to remain optimistic and they need to remain diligent," said Arlene Kaukus, UB's director of Career Services.

College officials who advise students on how to find a job say students who network aggressively, who cultivate relationships with mentors and who take part in internships or co-op programs have found employment in this area.

Employers say they've had success in hiring local graduates, notably veterans of their internships and co-ops, but some human resources executives say colleges and companies need to work together to make sure students are coming out with the right skill set.

"We're passing on them because they're missing what we're looking for," said Thomas A. Fentner, senior vice president for human resources and administrative services with HealthNow New York. "So our jobs, good jobs, go empty."

After completing their degrees, many college graduates want to move back to an out-of-town home, or move on, but a significant number want to stay in Buffalo Niagara because of family ties and connections.

"For the most part, our students want to stay here. Born here, their networks are here. Parents. Friends," said Jim Jones, director of the Canisius College Career Center.

Patrick Luvender, who graduated from UB in May with a history degree, loves his native Amherst and has one dream job: "I'm looking to become an Amherst police officer."

He's gone through the town's Youth Police Academy, he's interned with the department and he's taken the civil service exam to become an officer. Luvender scored 95 out of 100, and he's waiting for his acceptance into the police academy.

He's working a temp job and enrolled in a teacher certification program as a back-up plan.

"I think the waiting game is just part of it for me," said Luvender, 22. "I've done all I can to achieve my goal."

UB surveys its alumni around the time of their graduation and asks them where they want to live after finishing their degrees, Kaukus said.

> Many plan to stay

Of students graduating in December 2010 and May 2011, 40 percent said they planned to stay in Western New York.

Niagara University surveys its alumni one year after graduation. Of students from the Class of 2010 who reported having a job at that point, 61 percent of them were in Western New York, said Bob Swanson, the university's associate director of career services.

These college-educated young people are a key resource for an aging community, so this region needs to do whatever it can to keep them, officials said.

So what's available to these graduates, and is this area doing enough to keep them here?

"When students talk about leaving, they're saying they can't find jobs here," said Steven J. Harvey, executive director of the Western New York Consortium of Higher Education.

It's hard to say precisely what the unemployment rate is for recent college graduates.

Overall, people of any age who hold a bachelor's degree had an unemployment rate of 3.9 percent in May 2012, less than half the 8.1 percent rate for people with only a high school degree, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The unemployment rate for the youngest segment of the population, people 16 to 24 years old regardless of educational attainment, was 18.1 percent last July, according to the bureau's most recent annual report.

"The job market [for new grads] is the same as it is for everybody else. It's a tight labor market," said John Slenker, the State Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo, who nonetheless noted companies are hiring, here and nationally. "The big thing is just keep looking. Don't sit on the coach and say, ‘Oh, poor me.' "

Career-services officials at area colleges say their students and grads are finding jobs locally, especially in areas such as accounting, finance, engineering and the sciences.

One measurement of employer interest, the number of companies that registered to recruit on campus, has rebounded considerably since the depths of the recession, Canisius' Jones said. That number rose from 336 in 2009 to 513 in May 2012.

To help students who are looking for employment, area colleges put together searchable databases of job openings and internships, arrange for mentors in the students' preferred fields and host recruiters and networking events.

UB, for example, holds annual Career Conversations in Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and New York City, during which alumni advise current students and recent graduates on how to get started in their industries.

Manuel is one example of how making the right connection can lead to a job. Originally from Eden Prairie, Minn., Manuel transferred to UB to play volleyball and wasn't necessarily sold on staying in this area after graduating in February with a communication degree.

She attended last year's Career Conversation, where she met Timothy P. Lafferty, the president of UB's Alumni Association and national sales manager with the PCA Group. Lafferty played football at UB, and his daughter was a UB swimmer, so Lafferty and Manuel bonded over college athletics.

In January, she saw a job an opening at the PCA Group posted through UB. She applied and, in March, accepted a job managing the PCA Group's website and its social media presence.

"If I hadn't gone to this event, I probably wouldn't still be in Western New York," Manuel, 21, said. "There is definitely opportunity here, but it's up to the student to really want it."

Colleges also are encouraging their students to take part in as many internships and co-ops as they can because those programs give the students a toehold within a company.

> Intern your way in

A 2012 survey of companies found that they had hired 58.6 percent of their 2011 interns for full-time positions, the highest rate since 2001, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

"We have jobs. But the way in, when the economy is bad, the way in to those jobs is through an internship," said Stephanie Zuckerman-Aviles, director of Buffalo State College's Career Development Center. "[Companies] want to try on an outfit, they want to test drive the car."

Lindell Bekye, a Buffalo State economics major who graduated last month, said everyone in his internship class at Geico last summer, about 16 students, received an offer of a permanent job with the company.

Bekye, who is from Queens, said he interviewed with other companies, and received other offers. But he opted to take the position with Geico here because he knew he would be on track for a supervisory position and, from his internship, he knew and liked the people he would be working with.

"My whole thing is, I'm open to wherever the opportunity presents itself," said Bekye.

Aurubis Buffalo, formerly Luvata, recently set up an internship program through Buffalo State. The company now has two interns with another starting later this month, said Scott Grear, a senior mechanical engineer with Aurubis here.

Grear said his alma mater, the Rochester Institute of Technology, sends a number of students through internships and co-ops, and he thought the practice would benefit the students and Aurubis if he started a similar program at his company.

He initially contacted RIT, but after that university moved slower than Grear would have liked, his brother-in-law, a Buffalo State employee, put Grear in touch with Zuckerman-Aviles, and the first student intern, a mechanical engineer, arrived two months ago.

The students get valuable experience, and the chance to find out if this industry is right for them, while Aurubis gets a chance to hire employees on a trial basis and provide them with training that will pay off for the company if the employees are hired full time.

"All the ones that work out, we're probably going to make an offer to," Grear said.

However, not every local employer has found what it needs from recent graduates. HealthNow's Fentner is a member of a informal group of human-resources officials representing the 20 largest private-sector employers in the area.

Fentner and his peers have hired hundreds of recent graduates, but he said their companies have many positions that go lacking because they aren't able to find people with the necessary soft skills — such as critical thinking and emotional intelligence — to fill those jobs.

"You have to prepare people for the future," Fentner said.

Area colleges are working to build closer ties with local companies because school officials recognize the need to make sure their graduates are meeting the needs of employers, said the consortium's Harvey. "There are plenty of jobs out there. The challenge becomes finding those [graduates] who are qualified to fill those jobs," he said.

email: swatson@buffnews.com