Pam Higdon, president of staffing agency offices in Durham and Raleigh, N.C., said she's seen job market improvement. But she said it's still very competitive, and there are people willing to take jobs below their skill level.
That narrows opportunities for people with lower skill sets, said Higdon, who co-owns two Express Employment Professionals franchise locations in Durham and Raleigh. She said she thinks it has been difficult for young people.
"There are people with four years' experience who are looking for a job who are willing to do what someone might have requested an entry level person to do," she said. "I don't think it's employers trying to underpay, but again, they can get an experienced level for what they might have once paid for someone with less experience."
According to preliminary U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics annual average data for 2012, the unemployment rate for the civilian labor force in North Carolina was 9.2 percent. For 16-to-19-year-olds, the rate was 25.4 percent, and for 20-to-24-year-olds, it was 16 percent.
James W. Kleckley, director of the East Carolina University Bureau of Business Research, said in an email that many people in the youngest age range would be in school, but the working population as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics starts at 16, when a person can quit school and go to work.
"But if you quit school, you certainly limit your job opportunities," he said. "The fewer jobs that you have to choose from, the more competitive the job search becomes."
Kleckley said the recession caused unemployment gains among younger people. There has been improvement, however. In 2007, unemployment for people 20 to 24 was 8.3 percent, with a margin of error of 1.8, according to the average annual employment data for the year, and it reached 19.6 percent in 2011, with a margin of error of 2.2.
Higdon said it's difficult for new college graduates to find employment in the field for which they have gone to college, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, she said she's seen more experienced candidates finding fewer jobs at their skill levels.
"When there are fewer jobs, there are fewer entry-level jobs, people cross train, and cover for one another," she said. "The small company that might have once had eight people, might prefer to have 11 people with three entry level (jobs), but eight might be doing the job of 11 because they can't afford to hire entry-level (candidates). This has certainly been true since the last downturn."
Derrick Poole, a 20-year-old who's studying at Durham Tech to take the General Educational Development test, said there are jobs if you're willing to put in the effort and time to find them.
He said he was looking for a job for maybe five to eight months, and found one at Target. He said there aren't too many opportunities, so when you hear of one, you "jump on it before anyone else does."
Heyman Peraza, a 23-year-old student at Durham Tech who said he wants to apply for a laboratory science program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said he considers himself lucky.
"Every time I've looked for a job, I've always found one," he said, adding that he found one in research.
However, he said that for some friends, it has taken a long time to find a job, or if they do find one, it's either low-wage work, or in retail or customer service.
Taquan Lassiter, 21, said it's been easy for him to find work, mainly in restaurants. He said he did look for a job in the last month, and didn't find one. He said most of his friends have trouble finding a job.
"It's hard for people to find jobs -- that's why some people do crime," he said.
Joe Williams is studying to get his Ph.D. Duke University in art history, and is not on the job market yet. He said some of his friends have been very successful funding jobs, but he also cited the economy and competition in academia as potential challenges.
"I know it's going to be an issue," he said of the job search.
Johanna Silbersack, a 21-year-old undergraduate in her junior year at Duke, said she's looking for internships, which she said is "difficult enough." She said seniors she's talked to have been pretty successful in finding jobs, however, and said she's talked to seniors who have opportunities lined up in banking and consulting.
"I've actually heard pretty positive things," she said.
William Wright-Swadel, executive director of the Duke Career Center, said the center works with a specific population. The university's students are driven, and have access to internships, research opportunities and other programs.
"The fact is that our students have lots of experience, so they tend to be very, very able in the marketplace; we give them good training in how to use the marketplace, and all of them take advantage of that obviously," he said.
However, within that population, he said he's seen students opening themselves up to a broader range of possibilities, and many industries start their recruiting earlier. Networking, once a luxury, "is now a demand item," he said.
More organizations are risk-averse in hiring, he said, and are looking to internships and similar opportunities as a proving ground.
"Companies are now investing the dollars that they used to invest in finding talent after college, after graduation, in finding internship talent," he said.
In the two years after 2008, he said there wasn't much improvement, but he said the market has improved for college graduates in recent years. He added that there are now organizations recruiting who once thought they couldn't compete for college graduates before.
"What you see is fewer companies taking lots of people, and lots of companies taking a smaller number of people from most schools," he said.
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