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The College Degrees And Skills Employers Most Want

04/16/2014

Forbes. April 16, 2014.

The hiring picture is improving for the college class of 2014. According to a new survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers are planning to hire 8.6% more graduates for their U.S. operations than they did from the class of 2013.  It’s  a big jump from the spring of 2013 when employers said they would boost hiring by just 2.1% over the previous year.

A non-profit group in Bethlehem, PA, NACE links college placement offices with employers. It surveyed 1,015 of its employer members from February 11 – March 26, 2014 and got responses from 161 companies in industries ranging from agriculture to energy to retail. Respondents included Caterpillar CAT +1.01%, Macy’s, Merck , PETCO andSchlumberger SLB +0.83%.

NACE’S questionnaire asked employers to rate the academic disciplines they target for their college hires. At the top of the list: business degrees. Some 68.8% of companies said they want to hire students set to graduate in that discipline. Sixty-six percent are looking for engineers and 59% want accounting majors. At the bottom of the list: health sciences, education and agriculture.  Employers are not too eager to hire humanities majors either. Only 13.9% of respondents said they would hire humanities students. Here is a chart showing employers’ hiring expectations by major.

The NACE survey also asked employers to rate the skills they most value in new hires. Companies want candidates who can make decisions, solve problems, communicate clearly, analyze data and prioritize their work.  Here is the ranking in order of importance.

Comparative literature or history majors shouldn’t be discouraged by the list of preferred majors, says Dan Black, president of NACE’s board and director of Americas recruiting for accounting and business services giant EY. The list of majors hired reflects the respondents to the survey, large companies like Procter & Gamble PG +1% and IBM IBM -0.31%, who are looking for students trained in business, engineering, accounting or computer science. There are no nonprofits, arts organizations or publishers on the list. Students who are drawn to the social sciences or humanities should pursue their passions, says Black. They should also visit their campus’s career services offices starting freshman year for advice on how best to make themselves marketable within their major, which includes landing an internship at the end of that first year in school and finding extra-curricular activities that would interest an employer, like the debate team or volunteer work for a political campaign.

The great news for all grads is that the recession-tainted employment picture seems to be clearing. “Many students have had front row seats to a soft economy for some years,” says Black. That’s finally starting to change.