Alumni News

Job market causes concern for some recent UH graduates

Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

After several years of investing time and money for a degree, some recent graduates feel anxious about the prospect of finding a job in Houston. 

Adding to the existing anxiety, the post-pandemic economic recession amounts to a breaking point for the 2021 graduates. 

The obstacles 

For Vi Tran, a biomedical engineering senior graduating this fall, the crusade of finding a job has been months of endless application spending. 

“I started looking near the end of last semester and began more seriously searching since the start of this summer,” said Tran. 

Even though Tran hasn’t finished college yet, the recessed economy brutalized by the pandemic fuels her fear. 

The economy assailed by the pandemic is far worse than the Great Recession, said the director of career services Monica Thompson.

“The enormous amount of jobs that have been lost due to the drop in oil and gas prices in 2020 coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, greatly impacted many organizations and students securing jobs during the second and third quarter of 2020,” Thompson said. 

Students like Tran are fighting tooth and nail to secure a job in a post-pandemic reality as recruiters keep ignoring or rejecting applications.

“The repetition of it all is really tiring, to be honest. It’s kind of hard to feel motivated or especially productive when all I’m doing is filling out forms,” Tran said. “It’s monotonous, I’m doing the same thing over and over, usually with little feedback, so it’s just super dull.” 

One way to tackle unemployment is moving out of town. It is not until the recent economic downfall that students have the tendency to look to other cities or states for a better job market and a better place to live. 

Austin is ranked third for the best places to reside according to the U.S. News & World Report, and Plano makes to the top 10 of best job markets in the U.S., whereas Houston drops to the 97th.

Tran did not overlook these out-of-town opportunities but hesitates to move because Houston, as being the home of the largest medical center in the world, continues to retain the pool of medical-related degree holders. 

Fresh graduates or seniors like Tran don’t want to miss the immediate chance to utilize the local resources. 

“That is not out of the picture, however, that’s only if I find a comfortable job that is willing to accommodate my relocation fees. As nice as the thought is, I doubt that’ll be the case. I hope to get into research eventually, so it’s more likely that I will be staying in Houston,” Tran said.

Gap years

Some students consider taking a gap year. As an expert in career services, Thompson warns students to ruminate the matter. This strategy doesn’t work for some, but in contrast, may inspire others to flourish their hidden talents.

“When there were fewer jobs at the beginning of the pandemic crisis, this was the million-dollar question,” Thompson said. “I recommended then and now for recent graduates to take a job that will build on their skills during the gap year, consider a one-year master degree program if an advanced degree was already on the horizon and consider gig jobs for income.”

The employment effects of the pandemic were unforeseen, and no one would have guessed that May 2020 graduates would have a gap period longer than 18 months, Thompson said.

“It’s always a good idea to have a solid employment history, especially when we all know there is a shortage of job applicants.” 

Good news 

As Houston started getting vaccinated, many hoped the job market outlook would progress as things went back to normal.

Although the economic forecast seems concerning, companies are still hiring and jobs are being posted on Cougar Pathway in and outside of Houston, Thompson said.

“Conversely, with dismal fourth-quarter reports in 2020, the recent employment news headlines for 2021 are encouraging and provide insight on the available jobs and talent gaps in specific industries,” Thompson said.

Over the 12-month period, Texas is one of the three largest job increase states in the nation, just after California and New York, adding 1 million jobs into the market, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Employers across geographic regions are seeking UH talent candidates from all industries via virtual career fairs. Thompson hopes recruiters could see more viable and active candidates as the markets recover. 

“Our data shows many job vacancies remain open due to the low number of job applicants. This is not unique to UH, it’s happening locally and nationally,” Thompson said. “We acknowledge where we are in the pandemic, and as it declines and things return to normalcy, specifically in-person recruiting events, career services professionals can expect employers to fill their job vacancies sooner.”

In Tran’s case, a bachelor’s degree holder in her field seems stuck in an ambient impasse.

An entry-level lab technician is widely available for those like Tran who have exceeding capability to tackle the job. However, her dream job as a biomedical engineer demands a higher degree and is much more competitive. 

“From my initial searches, for a biomedical engineering position, people are usually looking for candidates with a master’s degree or above. While lab technician jobs aren’t bad, you’re certified for them at the equivalent of an associate’s degree,” Tran said. 

No stress

The pandemic has caused many to adapt to the virtual world, the job market also adjusts accordingly. 

“Stay abreast with the news related to the Houston economy including following employers’ Twitter pages and employment sites on social media,” Thompson said.

The office presently offers a variety of assistance to students from career planning, online “how-to” training for virtual career fairs to anxiety management and targeted marketing and communication. 

Also, Thompson emphasized graduating seniors, or even unemployed graduates, should take advantage of the available services at the office. 

“I want to share that UH graduates have access to University Career Services six months after graduation,” Thompson said. “We hope this will help students gain full-time employment as the economy gets stronger.”

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