‘Unemployable’ college grads should move their job hunt to Raleigh or Baltimore

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Gen Z college grads may have just tossed their graduation caps into the air, eyes bright for the career ahead of them—but they’ll need to join the queue of young, highly qualified “unemployable” professionals who just can’t get a job in the current market.

The difficult job market—along with high rental prices—is why those eyeing a move to the likes of New York to chase their American Dream would have better luck turning their attention to smaller cities where competition is lower. 

New research shows that Raleigh, N.C., is the best place for college grads to find their first jobs.

ADP Research Institute analyzed 55 U.S. metro areas with at least 1 million residents and assessed over 4 million 20-something-year-olds—and Raleigh ranked highest with the best hiring rate for recent graduates, wages above the 80th percentile and moderate affordability.

“Higher salaries in bustling metro areas might seem irresistible. But the actual value of a paycheck is more complex than it appears,” the report explains. “And to get that paycheck in the first place, you need to get hired.”

As part of America’s “Research Triangle,” Raleigh is home to more than 300 companies, many of which are in the science and technology sectors and looking for fresh talent. 

Young new hires there can expect an annual wage (adjusted for affordability) of around $52,857. 

Although grads can expect bigger pay checks (over $58,000) if they land a job in San Francisco’s Bay Area, they’ve got more than twice the chance of being hired in the first place at Raleigh. 

The top 5 cities for college grads 

1. Raleigh
Affordability-adjusted annual wage: $52,857
Hiring rate: 5% 

2. Baltimore
Affordability-adjusted annual wage: $50,767
Hiring rate: 3.4% 
(Hiring rate measures how much employers grew their headcount among highly prepared 20-29 year olds)

3. Austin
Affordability-adjusted annual wage: $57,522
Hiring rate: 2.7% 

4. Atlanta
Affordability-adjusted annual wage: $50,631
Hiring rate: 2.9% 

5. Charlotte
Affordability-adjusted annual wage: $51,606
Hiring rate: 2.8% 

Baltimore and Austin followed behind Raleigh in ADP’s rankings of the top metropolitan areas for job-seeking grads for similar reasons: Strong science and technology employment prospects. 

Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., complete the top five cities for college grads.

Why are college grads ‘unemployable’?

There’s a growing cohort of Gen Z who are classified as NEETs—“not in employment, education, or training”. But not all of them are unemployed by choice. 

A significant chunk are highly qualified and want to work, but just can’t land a job—and may never, a Korn Ferry report recently warned.

During the pandemic, firms hit pause on their hiring to brace for a recession that ultimately never really arrived. 

Now, employers are operating a “wait and watch strategy” as AI promises to revolutionize the way we work. 

“They’re hesitant about committing to full-time roles,” Adam Prager, co-leader of the North America professional services practice at Korn Ferry explained, adding that employers expect AI to make their workers more efficient and don’t want to resort to job cuts later down the line.

But employers’ cautiousness is creating a hellish experience for graduates looking to get a foot in the door of employment: As businesses cling to the workers they have and expect them to make do with less, fresh talent has become virtually unemployable.

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