Demand for College Grads Holds in S.D. : Employment: Some local industries buck the nationwide trend and are aggressively courting seniors for entry-level positions.


Cutbacks in defense spending and consolidation from recent mergers and acquisitions are being blamed for reduced corporate recruiting nationwide of this year's college graduates.

But San Diego college administrators, although confirming that local defense firms have also lowered their profile on campuses, say a healthy number of recruiters have been courting their students.

In fact, college career advisers say the growth of San Diego's biotechnology industry has produced a new breed of aggressive, on-campus recruiters. And more-traditional fields, such as education and accounting, are also hiring increased numbers of college graduates.

According to the Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, which recently conducted a nationwide survey of 479 employers from 22 industrial categories, employment opportunities for college grads are down 13.3% from last year.

Pat Scheetz, the research institute's director, said the decrease is the second largest drop recorded since the survey of business, government, education and military employers was started 19 years ago. The biggest drop came in 1982-1983, Scheetz said, when job opportunities fell 16.8% from the previous year.

"The bottom line is, you'll need to work a lot harder to find a job this year," said Scheetz of Michigan State. "If you haven't begun your campaigning, you better get going immediately."

But Neil Murray, director of UC San Diego's career services center, and other college officials said it is inaccurate to describe the job market as "bleak, across-the-board."

Cutbacks by major employers have been tempered by increased hiring in other local industries. Murray said he's seen a surge in hiring at UC San Diego by the biotechnology-pharmaceutical industry.

"Just two or three years ago, there was one or two biotech firms that came to recruit on campus," Murray said. "This year there's been 20 to 30 firms here.

"It's too early to tell in any ultimate way whether 1989-90 will be a down year, but there's a couple of areas that are noticeably worse," Murray said. Although he and other officials did not provide specific numbers, they said local defense firms such as General Dynamics and Rohr Industries have scaled back on-campus recruiting efforts.

"When you've been doing this for 13 years, you know who's coming and who's not," Murray said. "They haven't disappeared, but they're down." Spokesmen at General Dynamics and Rohr Industries were unable to supply specific hiring information.

During the 1989-1990 academic school year, 11,500 on-campus interviews were conducted at SDSU, said Judith Gumbiner, director of Career Services. "That's a pretty average year for us."

At UC San Diego, Murray expects more than 3,625 on-campus interviews this year, just ahead of 1987-1988's 3,524 interviews, but below last year's record 4,271 interviews.

"This may be the beginning of a downward turn, but our numbers don't reflect that yet," Murray said. "(Less hiring) is not across the board. It's industry-specific. Some are hiring less, but other industries are picking up the slack."

The education field, for one, is hiring aggressively in San Diego.

"Our hiring doesn't impact graduating seniors immediately because they need at least one additional year to get certified, but for those who have licenses . . . we've had the most opportunities in recent years," said George Flanigan, director of certificated personnel for the San Diego Unified School District, one of the county's biggest employers.

During the 1989-1990 academic school year, Flanigan said, the school district hired 700 certificated employees, including teachers, school psychologists and counselors.

"Last year, we hired about 600 and the year before 500," Flanigan said. "Next year we should hire another 700." Flanigan said bilingual and special-education teachers are in greatest demand.

Although traditionally education has been a relatively low-paying field, Flanigan said some school districts have made concerted efforts to raise pay. During the last three years, the salary for an entry-level San Diego Unified teacher has increased an average of 6% and now pays $24,000 plus a health package valued at $3,700, Flanigan said.

That's higher than the $20,650 nationwide estimated starting salary for teachers, according to Scheetz of Michigan State. As in past years, the engineering fields are expected to command the highest starting salaries for college graduates: chemical engineering, $33,380; mechanical engineering, $32,256; electrical engineering, and industrial engineering, $30,557.

According to the study, advertising ($19,662), retailing ($18,909) and journalism ($18,255) majors proved to be among the least lucrative.

Entry-level salaries typically rise 4-6% annually, Scheetz said, but this year the pay increased by only 2-3%. "The rate of inflation is about 5%, so, in value of dollars, they're not getting as much as last year's graduates."

The growth of the biotech industry in San Diego--the number of biotech companies has increased from five to 72 since 1978--has already resulted in job opportunities for graduates and is expected to have a greater impact on the future job market.

"We participate in the science and technical job fairs sponsored by UCSD and SDSU," said Kimberly Dorsey, a spokeswoman for Mycogen, a manufacturer of biopesticides.

"We definitely plan to continue hiring" through on-campus recruiting, especially to fill entry-level positions, Dorsey said. Mycogen plans to increase its 120-member professional staff by up to 10% this year. During the last 12 months, Mycogen's on-campus recruiting efforts have landed three new employees.

Although biotechnology firms are growing in size and number in San Diego, not all will offer jobs to new college graduates.

"We're hiring more, but we're looking for people who have more experience than those people coming right out of college," said Patricia Moses, personnel manager at Agouron Pharmaceuticals. Nearly 30 of the firm's 70-member research and development staff have Ph.Ds.

"We haven't participated in on-campus recruiting yet, but it's highly likely that we will in the future," when growth occurs, Moses said.

Accounting firms have also continued to hire aggressively in San Diego.

"We're certainly not holding back," said Charles Curtis, director of human resources at Coopers & Lybrand. "We'll hire 12 or 14 for fiscal 1990. That's two or three more than last year, and we'll probably hire a little more next year."

With the addition of this year's recruits, Curtis, who interviewed college students at SDSU and the University of San Diego, said the local office will have 90 employees: 75 professionals and a 15-member support staff.

San Diego's biggest accounting firm, KPMG Peat Marwick, is also keeping a high profile at local campuses.

"We'll be about the same as last year," said Paul Richey, the firm's managing partner.

KPMG Peat Marwick, which recruits regularly at SDSU and USD, has already hired 12 staffers and expects to add five or six workers in December. KPMG Peat Marwick has two local offices, in San Diego and Carlsbad, and employs 160 professionals and a 30-member support staff.


Estimated starting salaries for new college graduates of 1989-90.

Academic Major: Salary

Chemical engineering: $33,380

Mechanical engineering: 32,256

Electrical engineering: 32,107

Computer science: 31,389

Industrial engineering: 30,557

Physics: 28,777

Civil engineering: 27,707

Nursing: 27,358

Accounting: 27,051

Chemistry: 25,938

Mathematics: 24,968

Financial admin.: 24,359

Marketing/sales: 24,100

Geology: 24,080

Agriculture: 22,802

General business admin.: 21,845

Social science: 21,310

Personnel admin.: 21,033

Telecommunications: 20,880

Communications: 20,735

Education: 20,650

Hotel/restaurant mgt.: 20,553

Liberal arts: 20,244

Advertising: 19,662

Retailing: 18,909

Natural resources: 18,840

Journalism: 18,255

Human Ecology, Home Ec.: 18,157

Source: "Recruiting Trends 1989-90" by L. Patrick Scheetz

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World