Alaska Advantage: unemployment stays low compared to national average

Students continue to face stiff competition in the national job market, but UAA Career Services says Alaskan college students have a particular advantage.

Compared to the national unemployment rate, Alaska is fairing well, especially Anchorage. As of September, unemployment in Alaska is 7.6 percent. The national average is 9.1 percent.

Anchorage has 5.8 percent unemployment. According to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the municipality ranks 9th out of 29 areas with the least unemployment.

The Assistant Director of Career Services at UAA, Lindsay Lockhart, said that plenty of jobs are available for current students and alumni. Finding a job is more a matter of knowing where to look.

“I know people are thinking that the economy is on the decline—not here. Not with the people who come through my office. (From employers) I get the ‘Hey if you don’t start finding us more qualified people, we’re going to look out of state’ line,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart was surprised to hear a representative from the Odom Corporation (distributors of Coke products) say that he was having difficulty getting applicants for an entry-level sales manger position. The position starts at $65,000 a year, and requires little experience.

Lockhart said the less obvious jobs are overlooked when there are dozens of websites devoted to job postings.

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“The rule of thumb for job searching used to be the Anchorage Daily News classifieds. But now you have to look at 30 different places to find a posting. It could be on craigslist, it could be on anchoragehelpwanted.com, it could be on ours. Based on the organization’s preference, you never really know,” Lockhart said.

Some of the more obvious jobs around town are some of the most competitive. Bear Tooth receives around 140 applications a month, according to Grill Side Manager Amy Mack.

They do most of their hiring in spring, but even at these peak seasons, they may hire only ten new people, Mack said. With a hiring rate of roughly 7 percent, one’s chances of acceptance are better at Harvard (9 percent).

But while Harvard is never short of qualified applicants, Bear Tooth finds rapid ways to dwindle down the applicant load.

“Our first criterion is legibility. Yes, you’d be amazed how difficult it is to read some of these applications. The next is ‘did they answer every question.’ By this point, quite a few of them are gone,” Mack said.

The service industry is a popular choice for students working their way through college.  The hours are flexible, the tips can be good, and, as Mack said, the companies are often willing to train employees.

“The best job in the world is to get in the service industry and hospitality,” said Andy Phelps, a UAA student working on his second bachelorette. “You can pretty much pick your own hours.“

The professional equivalent of Bear Tooth may be BP. It immediately springs to mind for many job searchers, and like Bear Tooth, receives an astounding number of applications.  Unlike Bear Tooth applicants, everyone applying for BP jobs is evaluated at a national level.

A BP representative said that the company receives around 10,000 applications per month. 2,500 are called in for an interview, 500 will be hired, and that is the total number throughout the country. So about 5 percent of people who apply for a BP position will actually see a job.

College students are learning that competing at a national level is tougher.

Alaskan born Meena Ganesan decided to attend Emerson College in Massachusetts to earn her BA in journalism. Despite interning with the Boston Globe, Ganesan has yet to find a job since graduating in May.

She has applied for 400 jobs, gained an interview with 30, and gone for a second interview 9 times. Ganesan is now considering graduate school.

Social Work major Caitlin Fortin found similarly difficulties. Two months ago, she applied for Program Assistant at Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development. She was called back for a third interview as the top three of 130 applicants, each with a college degree. Last month she was hired as a Portfolio Management Administrative Assistant at Massachusetts Housing Partnership. Fortin beat out 200 other applicants.

With this kind of competition, Lockhart encourages students to remain in Alaska.

“We’re overwhelmed with employers who have a lot of openings. Maybe once you step outside of this university it’s different. But here, there are plenty of jobs.”