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Utah graduates find themselves in a hot job market where they’ve got the upper hand

Carla Arancibia is graduating from Westminster in 2022. She already has a job with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.
courtesy Carla Arancibia
Carla Arancibia is graduating from Westminster in 2022. She already has a job with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

A lot has changed since the pandemic brought Utah and the country’s booming economy and hot job market to a halt.

Things are starting to get back on track, but a widespread labor shortage still has companies desperate for workers. For college graduates, the options are seemingly endless, said Justin Jones, director of Brigham Young University’s Career Studio.

“When we've had our career fairs this past year, employers have jokingly said, ‘If they breathe and if they will show up again on Monday, they could have a job.’”

There are thousands of job openings, Jones said. BYU’s job board posted 600 new positions over the last weekend alone.

Kevin Schwemmin, director of Utah State University’s Career Design Center, said about 60% of graduates already have jobs. That’s in line with pre-pandemic placement rates, but not all students enter the job market right away. What’s different this time around is students are making more money.

The average starting salary for a USU grad is about $58,000, he said. That’s about $4-5,000 more than 2019. Students also have more leverage to get other benefits, like a flexible work schedule or working from home.

Carla Arancibia, who is graduating from Westminster, is benefitting from the tight labor market. She’s a single mom who returned to college in 2017 to study nursing and, eventually, transitioned into public health. She got a job at the Utah Department of Health and Human Services while in school and was recently promoted to oversee several COVID-19 self-testing programs.

While many people are burnt out, she’s noticed a heightened awareness from her employer about her mental health and making sure she and her co-workers are not overworked.

“I haven't had that before,” she said. “It's always been, ‘Go, go, go. You have to be in the office at this specific time, wearing these clothes.’ And now it's just more relaxed and people are more keen to keep you feeling comfortable and happy.”

Even with a huge number of open positions, Jones said students should still be strategic about finding the right fit. Tailoring resumes to specific jobs will get students noticed even faster. But it’s much easier now to find positions at organizations students respect, which he said is one of their top concerns.

“I think the generation that's coming into the workforce now really does have an emphasis on what is the culture and what is the desire for those organizations to give back,” he said. “Not necessarily to the student themselves, but to the greater community.”

Copyright 2022 KUER 90.1. To see more, visit KUER 90.1.

Jon Reed