By Grace Lyden
Several times a week, employers call the Career Development Center at Minnesota State University Moorhead, desperate to connect with students.
Can their recruiters visit classrooms? Can they set up tables at Comstock Memorial Union? Can the university host more job fairs?
“We’ve always gotten that kind of call, but the volume is just unprecedented,” said assistant director Diane Wolter, who’s been with the center 15 years.
From traditional methods to free pizza to internship applications on Pinterest, employers are pulling out all the stops to woo new graduates. At a time when Fargo-Moorhead has more job openings than people to fill them, college students are a hot commodity.
“Typically they’ve been here, they’ve had a good experience, they know the market, they can assimilate a lot easier than if somebody’s coming in from another location,” said Jim Gartin, president of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp.
Gartin’s organization was a sponsor of a study, released in June, that revealed just how dire the workforce shortage is, with 30,000 new job openings expected over the next five years.
Low-skill jobs are growing fastest, but students with post secondary education are also in demand, especially those in health science, transportation, finance and manufacturing.
Keeping those students in town, however, is a hurdle. About 40 percent of employed North Dakota State graduates are working locally, and the same percentage of employed grads from a recent class at MSUM have jobs here. From Concordia College, just 25 percent of a recent class was living in the area six months after graduation.
Gartin believes more students would stick around if they knew all of their potential avenues, which is why his group is working on a database of local career opportunities.
In the meantime, local businesses are tempting students with scholarships, internships and on-campus speed dating.
Free tuition and a job
More and more businesses are hiring students before they graduate. At the North Dakota State College of Science, some students are hired before they start, and their tuition is paid by their future employer.
President John Richman didn’t know how many students have arrangements like this, because many are made privately, he said. But the community college now has 16 formal business partners, up from one partner two decades ago. “We’re telling employers it’s a different market, it’s a different era,” he said. “You cannot expect to show up on our campus in April and May and think you’re going to hire one of the graduates.”
From intern to employee
Another way businesses reach students is through internships, which Gartin’s group will be pushing this year. “People are making commitments, some of them 12 months in advance,” but students can’t commit to a company they don’t know about, Gartin said.
“That’s why we want to put the internship programs at all of the colleges and universities kind of on steroids.” Wolter, the assistant director at MSUM’s career center, said internships are a low-risk way for employer and employee to scope each other out. A few years ago, Sundog, a Fargo-based marketing and technology company, showed its personality by having internship applicants make a Pinterest board of their passions.
Then there are the on-campus approaches: job fairs, information tables, on-campus interviews. In recent years, MSUM has held networking sessions in which employers talk to small groups and change tables every few minutes – “kind of like speed dating,” Wolter said. At Concordia, businesses have held informal meet-and-greets with breakfast or pizza, said program manager Sara Johnson. “That always is a win.”
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