>From Campus to Cubicle

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A softer job market may greet this spring's college graduates. Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas predicts some companies will refrain from filling cubicles with new hires, as money worries cloud their outlook. "A bit of the drive is gone," says John Challenger, CEO of the Chicago-based company. "Employers are facing rising interest rates, on top of all-out global competition."

Another new concern has emerged this year as well: rising costs for health insurance, already the most expensive item in most benefits packages. Insurance premiums are up 7 percent from last year, Challenger says. In addition, new employees often require training, another costly investment companies may not want to swallow. Specific industries in "recessionary mode" include textiles, oil, steel and agriculture, according to Challenger.

On the frontlines, however, many universities report a strong turnout of campus recruiters, particularly from high-tech consulting firms. One Chicago consulting firm told William Banis, director of career services at Northwestern University, that it was easier to acquire new business these days than new talent. Many consulting companies, faced with a small pool of technical science graduates, are hiring liberal arts majors and training them to fit their needs. And English majors are commanding the same salaries as those offered electrical engineers for the same job, Banis adds.

If grads can't land a job, they can always temp. According to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in personnel supply services, which consists primarily of the temporary help industry, will grow 53 percent from 1996 to 2006. That makes it one of the fastest growing industries in the economy. Temps aren't punching in for just administrative work, either. Professional occupations, including engineering, management and computer analysis, make up more than 11 percent of the personal supply services industry today. Between 1996 and 2006, the BLS projects that information technology specialists will account for the largest employment growth in the temp world-123 percent.

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