The good news is that well-educated, multi-skilled, versatile and flexible are words that sum up the characteristics of the college graduates who will get the best jobs this year.
The bad news is that right after those words, "darn lucky" might be the most fitting phrase.
This year offers the worst job market for college graduates in 20 years, according to "Recruiting Trends 1990-'91," the 20th annual national survey conducted by the Career Development and Placement Services at Michigan State University.
"Last year there was a 13.3 percent decrease in the job market. That, plus this year's 9.8 percent decrease adds up to the most serious job situation we've had since we started the study," says Patrick Scheetz, author of the study and assistant director of Career Development and Placement Services at Michigan State.
Hiring freezes and thousands of layoffs have caused increased competition for jobs. Put these factors together with the general business decline and you've got a highly competitive market, Mr. Scheetz says.
But before you fall into a depression-induced stupor, take heart: "Most of the decrease was caused by uncertainty. The economy, the war. And a lot has changed. We've gone to war, we've won the air war, won the ground war, now people will go back to buying things and dealing with the economy," he says.
Besides, this gloomy analysis doesn't mean there are no jobs, say local career counselors, just not as many.
And with or without a recession, the hot jobs will be "from now until 2000, in health and technology: Anything in health services, computer services will be in demand," says Neal Rosenthal, chief of the Occupational Outlook Division at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Job categories that made the Top Five chart for fastest growing fields according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics are: paralegals, medical assistants, home health aides, radiologic technologists and technicians, and data processing equipment repairers.
In these economically strained times, points out Mr. Rosenthal, "If you want to make things more efficient, you hire technologists."
The paralegal job market "continues to amaze me," says Debra Conaway, co-director of career focus at Maryland New Directions, Inc., a Baltimore career counseling center.
"In a way, it's a sad reflection on our society that we need this many paralegals out there with everyone suing and going to court. But the good thing is that you don't have to necessarily get a four-year degree."
And as baby boomers age, and breakthroughs in medical technology continue to be made, experts predict that, as far as jobs go, the health field is a booming market -- and will only get better.
"It's good now and frankly, the real health crunch will come in the year 2020. Right now it's the Depression babies who are aging -- the big crunch will be when the baby boomers begin to retire," says Edward Sabin, assistant professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at Towson State University.
He points to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau to bolster his argument: In 1989, there were 31 million people over 65 years old. In 2000, there will be an estimated 34.9 million.
However, the big jump comes between 2010 and 2020 when the estimated number of Americans over 65 years of age will go from 39.4 million to 52.1 million, he says.
"I try to tell my students that the doors are wide open," says Mignon Lieberman, instructor for internships for the department of sociology and anthropology at Towson State University. "Agencies call me all the time looking for students. There's a big sector in programming open that involves maybe a dozen types of areas: day care centers, nursing centers, senior centers."
Kathy Weidle, 26, graduated from Towson State University with a degree in gerontology in December 1989. Now, as activities director at Stella Maris, a nursing home run by Cardinal Shehan Center, she plans daily programs for the elderly from current events discussions to bingo games.
Although starting salaries for those holding gerontology degrees are not especially high -- usually in the mid-teens, Ms. Weidle says, "I knew that. I had gone to the library before I chose my major. I chose it because I like it and there is a lot of opportunity." Eventually, she plans to earn a master's degree -- perhaps in administration.
There are additional reasons for the continued availability of jobs in the health and what experts call allied health services, says Ms. Conaway. "One reason is that people don't tend to go into this field. The other is that we're both living longer and we're more active."
"There are all these sports medicine clinics, and when people say 'occupational therapy' they may mean all these back clinics: teaching people to live and work with back pain. And we're becoming high-tech -- there has to be someone to run the X-rays, the sonograms. You see whole businesses that aren't hospitals that do nothing but run these tests. These people are hiring," she says.
And computers may well be the great equalizer of the decade, as those who understand and can use them will be employable in nearly any field and any company -- whether they're applying for a management or a clerical position.
In the next 10 years, the need for computer programs analysts will increase an estimated 53 percent nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the number of jobs for computer programmers will jump 48 percent.
Locally, computer skills are in demand, says Michael Rogich, director of corporate relations for Villa Julie College in Stevenson. "Every major company has a computer department. For example, [a large insurance company] has a computer system that rates auto insurance. Computer people write the programs to do that. It's a business application of computers."
Accountants are also in demand, he says. Not just any accountants, however: accountants with computer skills. "The two areas I haven't had trouble placing people have been accounting and computing, and if you know accounting and computing -- you're in," he says.
But not all jobs in the financial world are wise choices this year. Anything in business management is going to be scarce both because of hiring freezes and because of large numbers of layoffs. "Before, we got a lot of offers from large corporations. This year, many businesses are cleaning out the middle management in an effort to save money," says Ms. Conaway. "I think there's a realization there were too many people in middle management. There are a lot of those people being cut."
She recommends that business management students consider honing skills that will make them stand out in a crowd. "I would make damn sure that I had really, really good computer skills. And I would start gearing myself down farther. You're not going to get the high paying jobs of the '80s," she says.
Despite the increasing need for those with a technological background, there will be jobs in the 1990s for liberal arts majors, says Becky Weir, assistant director, employee relations, for the Career Development Center at the University of Maryland at College Park.
"These people [those with liberal arts backgrounds] communicate well. They have excellent writing skills. There's a need for human resources and staff training. As training becomes more and more necessary, corporations will go to these well-rounded communicators. And liberal arts majors have had success in marketing research and sales -- I don't see that falling off."
And while the greening of America may continue, not all environmentally-oriented jobs are good bets these days, say experts. According to the study by Michigan State's Patrick Scheetz, there aren't necessarily jobs for those with degrees in the environmental or "softer sciences." Majors that are highly marketable are those can be used to protect the environment in an increasingly technical world. "Chemical engineers, civil and mechanical engineers and chemists -- these are not environmental science or conservation majors," Mr. Scheetz says.
Education follows a similar pattern: Teachers of biological and environmental sciences won't necessarily be in high demand, while chemistry, physics and math teachers will, says Mr. Scheetz. Other less likely subjects for prospective teachers to gain employment in this year are physical education, health and elementary education. "There are three graduates per one job in elementary education and 10 to 15 graduates for every job in health or P.E.," Mr. Scheetz says.