Kokailey Djanie grew up in Ghana but decided to attend school in the U.S. because her siblings went there, and that’s where she saw the greatest opportunity.
Djanie first started school in the U.S. at LDS Business College. After a year there, she transferred to BYU, and decided to study public health. Her goal was to graduate, work for a few years and eventually get her M.B.A. She said in Ghana, the U.S. is viewed as a place with many opportunities.
The U.S. may be seen as the land of opportunity, but for college graduates in the last few years, opportunities have been harder to find. For Djanie and many other students graduating during a national economic decline, it hasn’t been easy to land that first job.
“Here [in the U.S.], people feel like you get a job and establish yourself,” Djanie said. “But I’m looking for entry jobs in public health, and that hasn’t really worked out as much as I want it to.”
Djanie said although the job market has been tougher than she initially thought, it always takes work to find work. She said her expectations for work in the U.S. have still been partially fulfilled.
“It has lived up to my expectations but not to the fullest,” she said. “I have a job I am going to begin … if it was that bad I wouldn’t even have that opportunity.”
Trends show the struggle to find work, in Utah at least, may be turning around.
The most recent information released by the Utah Department of Workforce Services showed the state of Utah had an unemployment rate approximately 2 percent lower than the national average. The report also showed the unemployment rate steadily decreasing over the last year, and employment growth reached 2 percent over the same time period.
Mark Knold, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, warned, however, that Utah is more likely to follow the national trend than the other way around.
“The last few years have been a roller coaster,” he said. “We’ve had some small recovery that, from this point in time, is starting to look a little tenuous. The national economy has not been able to gain any traction recently … so to say this momentum is going to continue isn’t guaranteed. However the national economy goes will affect Utah.”
Knold said there is no secret to finding the right job during economic downturns, it just takes looking, and a lot of it.
“Look hard, look, look and look,” he said. “It’s going to be a difficult market. It’s going to take two to three times longer [to find a job] than it would have five or six years ago.”
But according to Knold, being fresh out of college may actually be an advantage in the eyes of some employers.
“New workers are fresh, so to speak, and pliable,” he said. “They are not bringing preconceived work habits into the workplace. To some employers it’s like a fresh start.”
Over the last few years, some students nearing graduation have debated staying in school longer or pursuing a graduate degree, for fear of not finding a suitable entry job . Knold said using this time to increase your marketability is not a bad idea.
“If you can afford to do that, it’s a very viable option,” he said. “It extends the amount of training you have … and we will have higher-skilled workers out in the future.”
Others argue that graduation should be put off at all costs in times of economic downturn.
A 2010 study by Yale University’s Lisa B. Kahn looked at the consequences of college students graduating in a bad economy. Kahn looked at data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. She reported that students who graduated during a recession not only end up holding less prestigious job positions in general, but also made less money over the course of their career.
Chad Thomas, a student at UVU, feels differently. He plans to attend law school after graduation, and said he feels the employment outlook is not as bleak as it may seem.
“There is hype that the unemployment trend is unbearable,” he said. “But those who put themselves in the right position and finish their degree can make it happen.”
Thomas said he has had to work hard even to get where he is, and understands that everyone has to start from the bottom.
“If there is a job, and you have the qualifications for that job, you can get it,” he said. “I’m a poor college student right now, but I’m working with what I have. It’s going to be a challenge, but I look at those that are well-off, and I realize they didn’t start that way.”
BYU students are encouraged to seek all the education they can get, and the university encourages students to not procrastinate their undergraduate work.
Todd Hollingshead, BYU spokesman, explained why the school encourages graduating within a reasonable time period.
“We definitely want to encourage our students to finish their schooling in a timely manner,” he said. “We love our students and love them being a part of campus, and all the contributions they make. But we do encourage them to graduate in a timely manner, to create opportunities for more prospective students.”
Hollingshead reported the university had seen a slight increase in the number of continuing students over the last four years, which potentially could indicate a trend of students taking longer to graduate. The change was small, however, and graduation numbers have been consistent, which is indicative of students pursuing other educational or professional goals.
Hollingshead also said the university is aware of the struggle for students to find jobs, which is why BYU has an abundance of resources to help.
“That’s a real concern, that the job market has changed in recent years,” he said. “But we have a lot of things on campus to help students out, one of the big ones is the counseling and career center. Individuals there help students as they get close to graduation … find prospective employers. Students getting near to graduating and feeling concerned about employment are encouraged to sit down with them and get some tips. They love to work with students to help them find jobs.”
Hollingshead also mentioned on-campus career fairs, the university advisement center, the online planning tool MyMap and the learning outcomes website as great resources to make sure students feel prepared to enter their first job when they graduate.
In Ghana, Kokailey Djanie said she felt going to BYU would give her greater opportunities. Now, she says she still feels that way.
“I think I will find a job,” she said.