College graduates tackle depressed job market
(From left to right) Drew Slater, a business major at Waynesburg College, Anthony Pugliese, a double major in finance and marketing from Pitt, and Lewis Russo, a marketing major at Pitt, all of whom graduated from Thomas Jefferson High in 2005. They, like recent college graduates nationwide, have had a tough time finding work in the local job market. With a spot in the family funeral home business, Mr. Slater has been most succesful, they say.
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When Anthony Pugliese learned in May that the engineering firm where he had interned for two summers was eliminating its intern budget, he had "a great sense of urgency," he said, to quickly find another job.
But when that job also soured, it was back to the drawing board. He now has an interview lined up with National City Bank.
That is just one story of what local college graduates are facing in today's depressed job market. Nationwide, said the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 9.5 percent are without jobs with the big majority of that number out of work for more than six months. Locally, the jobless rate is 7.5 percent.
Of every five college seniors looking for a job, fewer than one has a position lined up by graduation, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
"I know the feeling of finding a job and then losing it and then trying to find a job and worrying about keeping it," Mr. Pugliese said.
Mr. Pugliese, 22, graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School and from the University of Pittsburgh with a dual major in finance and marketing. The depressed job market has him worried.
It's much the same for his friend Lew Russo, another TJ graduate. After graduating in May from Pitt, he said he found the job market "almost nonexistent."
He took a sales job with an insurance firm at a local office that paid commission but said he couldn't make enough money. Now he is working on occasional projects with a marketing research company, but that work is anything but steady. He has more than $80,000 in student loan debt, he said.
Both Mr. Pugliese and Mr. Russo said they are looking at that all-too-familiar option for worried college graduates: Go back to school, earn yet another degree and hope that the job market improves.
"I didn't want to leave school because of the job market," Mr. Russo said. "I know a lot of people who intentionally didn't take enough classes so they could come back next year."
He is waiting to see whether he has been accepted at the Duquesne University School of Law. "But I'd rather be working," he said.
That sentiment is common today, said Paul-James Cukanna, associate provost for enrollment management at Duquesne University.
"We have about 5,000 applications for graduate and professional schools this year compared with 3,300 at this time last year and most of those are from local applicants."
Mr. Cukanna said the applicants not only are students like Mr. Pugliese and Mr. Russo, who intend to stay in Western Pennsylvania, but students who in past years would have taken jobs out of state.
The bleak national economy has put a temporary halt to the Pittsburgh area brain drain.
"When the economy is poor, the trend would be to try to stay near one's support system," Mr. Cukanna said. "Students ... already have their friends and family to rely on, and moving is expensive."
Nick Fierst also graduated from Thomas Jefferson in 2005. This spring he finished his elementary education studies at California University of Pennsylvania. Since then, he has been scouring for a teaching job in Western Pennsylvania.
But, he said, there are thousands of applicants for every available job. In April, he went to a job fair in Cheswick, but all the teaching jobs were out of the state, he said.
"If I had decided to interview for one of the jobs, I probably would have gotten it because I am a guy in a primarily female field," Mr. Fierst said. "But I was still holding out for a job closer to home."
Mr. Fierst said if he doesn't have a teaching job in a year, he will consider moving south -- perhaps to Virginia or the Carolinas -- to gain experience before his teaching certification expires in five years.
All three Thomas Jefferson graduates look at their former classmate, Drew Slater, with a measure of envy.
Mr. Slater, who graduated from Waynesburg University in May, has decided to return to school in the fall. He plans to study mortuary science and later join his father in the funeral home business.
It's one of the few industries unaffected by the national economy, Mr. Slater said.
"He's got it made," Mr. Russo said. "I wish I had something like that lined up."
First Published July 16, 2009 12:00 am