College graduates’ job expectations suggest employers need to revamp perks | Business

Processions of cap-and-gown-clad young adults have completed their march to “Pomp and Circumstance,” and as recent college graduates many are now setting out on quests for gainful and satisfying employment.The labor market they’re stepping into has changed in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the last two years, remote jobs emerged as a viable option for in-person work, mass layoffs trimmed opportunities in some technical fields and the unrealized threat of a recession and artificial intelligence hung like clouds over hiring efforts as employers took a more cautious stance on expansion.While the market continues to adjust to the post-pandemic world, employment opportunities remain high, especially in South Carolina and the Charleston market, said Laura Ullrich, a Charlotte-based economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

South Carolina’s low unemployment rate — unchanged at 3.1 percent for June — a lagging labor force participation rate and a record number of job openings suggest ample opportunities. But the preferences and expectations of this fresh-faced crop of mostly Generation Z jobseekers’ preferences and expectations have shifted, creating job searches and success rates as different as the candidates themselves.About the graduatesA McKinsey American Opportunity Survey of Generation Zers entering the job market last spring showed 59 percent never expect to own a home and 53 percent don’t plan to retire.

As manager of the College of Charleston Career Center Office, Lois DiClemente helps students prepare for jobs after they graduate. Daniel Sarch/Staff

Based on their expectations, they’re taking a different tack in their hunt for job opportunities that may seem counterintuitive to their older colleagues. The changing landscape is forcing employers to adapt and rethink how they recruit candidates.Many young adults embarking on careers are interested in something other than traditional benefits like retirement savings and health insurance, Ullrich said. They want flexibility and more of them are concerned about how companies stand on the issues they support rather than their compensation. “They want jobs where they can impact the world,” she said.Megan Llewellyn graduated from the College of Charleston in 2021 at the top of her class with high hopes of landing her dream job in public relations. She is currently in sales at Eyeglass World in North Charleston and freelancing while looking for a full-time job in her chosen profession.  She said the perfect job would be in person and with a company that shares her values. Having gone to school during Covid-19, a virtual work environment “seems to drain me more than working in person,” Llewellyn said. She also relishes connections with coworkers and the brainstorming and creativity of in-person work that can’t be duplicated in a remote environment.On ethics, she said, it is “crucial to consider” that “when searching for job opportunities.”Llewellyn said the values and principles a company upholds can impact the overall work environment and personal satisfaction among workers.Her expectations are not unique.

A recent survey of 345 higher education students, ages 20-25, from the classes of 2022-2024 showed that most prefer in-person or hybrid work over remote job opportunities. Most said corporate ethics are more important than their salaries. But many won’t consider a job with a starting pay of less than $70,000 a year.Llewellyn’s dream position would come with a salary of at least $72,000. She said her degree, experience and resilience from internships and earning her degree during a pandemic warrant that pay level.Donnie Sturm, a 2022 Clemson University graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering, said those kinds of salary expectations may be unrealistic. Yet, money was definitely a factor in his job search.Sturm interned with a medical technology company in Florida that offered him a permanent position when he graduated. He turned down the job and expanded his search to other states. He recently accepted a job with a manufacturer in Savannah that offered $10,000 more and a larger bonus.“I took the job in aerospace to explore a different field, but salary played into it,” Sturm said.

Career pamphlets from the College of Charleston. Daniel Sarch/Staff

Adjusting expectationsUltimately, job choices are as individual as the people making them, according to experts.Jim Allison, executive director of the College of Charleston Career Center, said generally, students may seek in-person work. However, the choice is “very much individual specific, depending on the type of job to be performed.” Allison said whether they would choose an employer based on ethics over money is also an individual decision that often depends on their field of choice, career goals and future promotional and growth opportunities.Skeptical about starting salary expectations, Allison said in certain areas in certain states, $70,000 is considered a “bare minimum salary, as cost of goods and services and cost of living in general presumably rise.”Ultimately, pay often depends on credentials and the industry, said Ullrich, the Federal Reserve economist.“Entry-level wages in accounting are mind-blowing to me,” Ullrich said. She added, “A CPA could earn $80,000 a year out of school.”And it’s not always a trade-off between a traditionally high-paying job and ethics, she added.  Previously, graduates with degrees in fields like child education and nursing tended to put more stock in those things.“What we are seeing now is people studying accounting also feel that way,” Ullrich said.Facing debtWhatever their wants and desires, many graduates quickly realize that “just having a degree is not a path to success,” she said. Their education continues with important lessons, not the least of which is “they need to adjust their expectations.”Recent graduates may have less time and freedom to wait for the “perfect” position as they face down college loan payments, which were paused in March 2020 and are scheduled to resume Sept. 1.

“For three years students didn’t have to make payments. Now here it comes,” Ullrich said.More responsibility to pay their debts could force idealistic job searchers to abandon their wants in place of their needs.

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