Special Report: Employment Data, Plus Recent South Carolina College Grads Find a Welcoming Job Market

Richard Breen

Friday, December 21st, 2018

With a record number of South Carolinians working and more job openings than there are people seeking jobs nationally, college students walking off the December graduation stage have stepped into a generally strong job market.

“We have a group of people coming out right now that really have a lot of opportunities ahead of them,” said Vicki Hamby, senior associate director of the career center at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. “It’s really an excellent market right now for our students – and in general.”

A recent survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found 38.6 percent of employers plan to increase hiring in 2019.

“The market is very, very strong, not only for new grads but for those who are further along in their careers and looking to make a move,” said Julie Godshall Brown, president of Godshall Professional Recruiting in Greenville.

While spring is typically associated with graduations, thousands of students across South Carolina received their diplomas in recent days:

- USC awarded approximately 2,283 degrees from its Columbia campus.

- Clemson University awarded more than 1,700 degrees.

- More than 700 students were eligible for fall commencement at Coastal Carolina University in Conway.

- Nearly 250 undergraduate students and 58 graduate students received their degrees from the College of Charleston.

- USC system campuses (Aiken, Beaufort, Lancaster, Salkehatchie, Sumter, Union and Upstate) totaled approximately 928 grads.

“The perception is that May is when all the hiring happens, but realistically, all the organizations that are hiring college graduates are recruiting year-round,” Hamby said.

Students with degrees in STEM fields, finance, human resources and management are among the most in-demand job candidates, according to Hamby. She said strong quantitative and analytical skills are particularly prized.

“Anybody that’s got some coursework or a certificate in data analytics has something of value,” Hamby said.

Brown said financial and tech skills are the most in demand right now. The market is also competitive for people with customer service, engineering, health care and sales skills.

“Talent has choices today,” she said.

Employers are also continuing to emphasize soft skills such as teamwork and work ethic.

“Written communication is at the top of the list,” Hamby said.

She suggested students pick a major and minor that complement each other. For example, a business major might want to consider a minor in English.

“There’s still a feeling that the arts and sciences student knows how to think,” Hamby said.

According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unemployed persons was 6.0 million, while the number of job openings was 7.1 million. The national unemployment rate was steady at 3.7 percent in November, as was South Carolina’s (3.3 percent).

“When the unemployment rate is that low, you simply have fewer people with the requisite skills to choose from,” Brown said. That means employers often need to recruit workers who already have jobs. “They’re not sitting on the sidelines, waiting.”

She added that employers should look for ways to streamline their hiring process in a market where job seekers might be entertaining multiple offers.

“Long hiring processes can be very frustrating for candidates at all levels,” Brown said. “Competition for top talent is fierce, so employers need to make sure that another employer isn’t reaching the offer stage while they are still scheduling the fifth interview.”

Some employers in the Upstate are paying to relocate new hires.

“We’re fortunate in our market that we’re a place that’s appealing to move to,” Brown said.

Brown is also seeing wage increases and retention bonuses. Her firm is recommending to some clients that they build raises into their agreements for long-term temporary hires.

“I do believe employers value their employees,” she said. “Companies are focusing more attention on retention.”

In November, the estimated number of people working in South Carolina increased by 4,202 to 2,235,289. There were more than 14,000 additional people working than in November 2017, when the unemployment rate was 4.2 percent.

Charleston County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 2.5 percent, followed by Lexington County at 2.6 percent. The highest rate was in Bamberg County, at 5.9 percent.