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A tight labor market means the class of 2022 has options

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Students throw their graduation caps in the air.

“Companies are recruiting at a level that we've never seen before,” said Colby College president David Greene Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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A tight labor market is a boon for many new college graduates. A spring survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that employers plan to hire nearly one-third more graduates from the class of 2022 than from the class of 2021.

“Companies are recruiting at a level that we’ve never seen before,” said Colby College president David Greene, who just two years ago was scrambling to help the class of 2020 find jobs at the height of pandemic layoffs.

Greene spoke with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio about where new graduates are heading this year and how the labor market is impacting internships. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

David Brancaccio: I was looking at this surge, nationally, in campus recruiting by organizations, companies — you seeing it there?

David Greene: We are seeing it like crazy. It has changed so much. Do you remember? Two years ago we were talking about this, and we were doing everything we possibly could to help our students find jobs; went to extreme measures. And now the story is entirely different. Companies are recruiting at a level that we’ve never seen before.

Brancaccio: Finance is still big with the students. What else?

Greene: Finance is definitely big. Technology firms are recruiting like crazy. Health care. Professional services — I’ll just say professional services are clearly doing well, they are recruiting at a level we’ve never seen before, from auditing firms. Law firms coming to places right now looking for talented undergraduates to be working for them. Consulting firms, that’s clearly a booming business from what we’re seeing in terms of the recruitment of our students.

Brancaccio: So finance, still big, even though the stock market is … well, it’s been awful?

Greene: It’s been awful. But I think that the demand is still high from many of these banks and from other financial companies right now. And one of the things that we’re starting to see, David, is that a number of these companies are actually recruiting more students than they actually need over time. They’re getting something that we understand in the admissions world, which we call “summer melt.” We want a class of 1,000 students, for example. You end up getting 1,100 students because you know 100 students over that summer are going to decide to take a gap year, go somewhere else, something will happen. And I think right now companies and firms are seeing the same thing. They need more offers out there, they need more people accepting their offers than spots they have, because they’re expecting students to shift their minds over the next several months.

Brancaccio: Yeah, we know students. That can happen. And they’re talking to younger students, not just rising juniors and seniors?

Greene: This is like Division I athletic recruiting right now. So they’re going after sophomores right now. They’re trying to do everything they can to line students up at that time for internships. We haven’t seen this before at this level — it used to be that they would be there, that, particularly for financial firms, “We’ll give you a key internship your junior year, hire you after your senior year.” Now they’re starting with sophomores. We had a student who came to me and he said, “I’ve got, I’ve got an offer my sophomore year, but I’ve got another offer from a private equity firm.” And he said, “I went to them. And I said to them, ‘Hey, you know what, I can’t take it right now. But if you guarantee me, I’ll be there for my junior year.” So he lined up two internships right away sophomore year, junior year. The demand is that high right now and the recruiting is that hot.

Brancaccio: Kind of weeping right now, because I graduated from, not your institution, but one down the road there, in 1982, into the teeth of when Paul Volcker, the Fed chief, was raising interest rates to a quadrillion percent. And this was not happening. There’ll be people in our audience listening going, “That actually happens now?”

Greene: It’s completely different. I’ll give you one thing that has been a surprise to me, too. But one is, if you look at big financial firms, 1 out of 5 of our students hired into financial firms this year are humanities majors. And, still a number of econ majors, physics majors, others that the financial firms are interested in. But they are also looking for a number of new candidates who do not fit their central casting mode, who are going to take a different view of the world, who are going to ask different questions, who might not have the exact same skill set as everybody else, but who are going to add something incredibly important to their teams. So we’re seeing humanities majors being scooped up by finance firms. And the other piece that we’re seeing that’s interesting to me is many of the jobs that used to be filled by MBAs — for example, product managers — are now going to new BA candidates coming out. And I think there’s a sense, from many companies right now, that they can train these students. They want to be able to get them and keep them there for the long run. And having, in some ways, less education than what you have at an MBA may be an advantage if you really want to get people to think the way that your company is thinking about something.

Brancaccio: Now, my dad, Patrick Brancaccio, was a professor at the school where you’re a president now. And he was an English professor, and he used to say the English majors run the world. And he was very optimistic that humanities people could do well in life. But I’m just taking a pause for a second: You’re saying to me that like a philosophy major might be of interest to a financial firm?

Greene: First of all, your dad is truly a legend and has been a legend here for a long time. And he was right — and philosophy majors are hot commodities right now, there’s no doubt about that. I was talking to a recent graduate of Colby who majored in philosophy who was now working at a major investment bank and has just become the head of their quantitative practice in that part of Citibank. So we’re seeing people who are coming out and building their skills over time, but this is truly the value of a liberal arts education at a place like Colby.

Brancaccio: Now, I know you to be a data-driven person and you like to gather your data. Do you have information on what Colby students are interested in getting from these jobs? Presumably a paycheck, but beyond that?

Greene: For sure, but more than ever — and I’m hearing this from CEOs and chief human resources officers at top companies around the country — that the questions that our students are asking are the same that many others are asking of this generation: It’s not about compensation first, it’s about ESG matters. It’s about, “Do our values align with your corporate values?” If students do not hear good answers around ESG, around corporate values, then there is no interest on their part, generally. And in a way that I think generationally, if you think about when we were graduating from college, it’s completely different in terms of the way that students think about that, right now.

Brancaccio: ESG — environmental, social, governance issues, and how the companies try to align their values with those goals.

Greene: Absolutely. Do you care about diversity? Do you care about equity? Are you really living that, or is it just about another slogan? How embedded are your diversity, equity and inclusion values in your company and the way that you live them every day? Those end up being determinative questions for our graduates.

Brancaccio: You mentioned this, but I want to go back to it briefly before we go. Two years ago, you and I were talking here, and it was in the teeth of early pandemic, and you had the graduating class of 2020 getting out into the world in those conditions. And your campus launched an initiative to find jobs for all graduates, everybody — how’d you do?

Greene: It was actually amazing, David, I can’t believe it. But Colby’s program was called “Pay it Northward,” and the idea was to reach out to 30,000 of our alums, families and others and say, “Here’s an incredibly talented group of students entering the worst job market ever. Can we help them find jobs?” Ninety percent of them found jobs within six months, at the worst time ever for jobs. In a typical year, we’re about 95%, 96% at six months, when people are either in graduate school or are in the job of their choice. So it was pretty close to that, given the madness that we were facing at that time.

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