Thais Vacaflores, a 2021 graduate of SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Marcy, went straight from college into graduate school and then into a job before she finished her graduate degree.
After graduation, Vacaflores, a Bolivian native who moved to New York City with her family six years ago, got a business systems internship at Wolfspeed on the SUNY Poly campus. Wolfspeed called again in December, and Vacaflores started a full-time job as a human resources analyst in June. Her coursework is done, but she’ll finish her master’s project in computer information science while working.
“It was exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. “It’s going to bleed into project management. And I get to work with data and create visualizations.”
At least at first, Vacaflores will be working from her new apartment in Syracuse, not in Marcy.
Her experience is in line with other recent college graduates, officials at local colleges said. Although it’s too early for colleges to have formal statistics on their 2022 graduates, the job market has largely been kind to them so far, they said.
And if there’s one hallmark of post-pandemic hiring, it’s a new flexibility, like Vacaflores’ ability to work from home. That flexibility makes it easier for recent graduates to find jobs that are a good fit, giving them most of what they’re looking for and not just paying the bills, said Teresa Olsen, assistant vice president for career initiatives at Colgate University in Hamilton.
David Mathis, director of workforce development for Oneida County, agreed that the job prospects for graduates are good.
“Regardless of whether you’re coming out with a certificate or a two-year degree or a four-year degree or even higher, this has been an employee’s market for at least two years,” he said. ‘So I think the Class of 2022 is in real good shape.”
The local numbers
Across the local job market, the numbers are heading in the right direction. Unemployment fell between April 2020 and April 2021, the latest numbers available, in Utica (7% to 4.2%), Rome (6% to 3.3%), the Mohawk Valley (5.6% to 3.4%) and the state as a whole (7.7% to 4.2%), according to the New York State Department of Labor.
And the Mohawk Valley gained 3,600 nonfarm jobs over the past year with the greatest gains in leisure and hospitality (2,000); trade, transportation and utilities (1,000); manufacturing (700) and government (600), according to the department.
The greatest job losses were in education and health care, which lost 2,000 jobs; health care providers across the country have been struggling to fill all their jobs.
“For the last, I would say, the last year and a half at least —I’ve been in the workforce development field for over 40 years — I’m still just blown away,” Mathis said, “by the current job market in terms of the number of job openings that have gone unfilled.”
Local colleges haven’t pulled together their statistics yet for what the Class of 2022 is doing post-graduation. But Hamilton College in Clinton has heard from about half of its class — 250 people, said Director of Employer Engagement Abby Taylor.
Half of them have found a job already; another 23 percent are going to graduate school; and the rest are doing fellowships, post-graduate internships or some other planned activity, she said.
“All of our numbers point to the fact that companies are hiring again,” Taylor said. “Things are turning around.”
Companies are hiring again on the schedule typical of years past without the signs of hesitancy seen in recent years, agreed Teresa Olsen, assistant vice president for career initiatives at Colgate University. Not every industry is hiring, and not every student has gotten an offer, she noted.
“But for the most part, we were pleasantly surprised,” she said, “at how quickly it seemed to bounce back for some of our students (after the pandemic).”
Job offers include more money and more flexibility than in the past, including in scheduling and work location, she said.
“I think employers are really considering what work satisfaction looked like for their candidates,” she said.
For Mohawk Valley Community College, health care and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields have always been the easiest areas for graduates to find good jobs, said Alen Smajic, executive director of marketing and communications.
“Both of these sectors are offering more opportunities ad higher salary and benefits than we’ve seen in the last decade,” he added. “There are several local employers that are growing and trying to hire more employees in technical fields (machinists, electrical engineering techs, etc.).
“We can’t produce enough graduates in these programs to meet the local demand,” he said.
At Herkimer County Community College, more than 2/3 of students typically go on to finish their education at a four-year college, said Rebecca Ruffing, director of public relations. The college doesn’t have data on 2022 graduates yet, but typically, physical therapy assistants are the most likely graduates to get a job in their fields within three months of graduation, she said.
Whatever job graduates end up in, they should remember one thing, Olsen said.
“The first thing you do after college is not the only thing you’re ever going to do,” she said. “It has to be a launching point.”
Amy Roth covers issues that affect families for the Observer-Dispatch. Email Amy Roth at [email protected]