The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Grads Go-To Skill Set: Data Science

AMHERST — If the film "The Graduate" were being made today, the one-word piece of career advice for Dustin Hoffman's character might plausibly be "analytics" instead of "plastics."

"The real skill set now, and it is everywhere, is analytics," said Nic Wegman, executive director of the Chase Career Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst's Isenberg School of Management.

It's data science, Wegman said. Analytics is working with large data sets and using computer software to cull out the useful information. The term is popping up in most business disciplines, including marketing, which was once known as a soft-skill, not a data-driven business discipline.

"So it is the use of data to help with the decision making," he said. "It is just so fast and it is just so credible."

Analytics is just one of the buzzwords employers used this year to recruit on the region's college campuses in what career centers experts think is a fairly good year for graduates to head out on the job market.

It's not just jobs for those with data skills. Wegman said he's seeing calls for accountants and other business specialties. "Our number of job postings is up this year and has been up in each of the last four years," he said.

Not that finding a job is easy.

"It is still competitive," said Junior Delgado, director of the career center at Westfield State University. "But there are some opportunities presenting themselves to students. Our number of job postings to our center is up this year. We are seeing more and more companies reaching out to us, trying to establish pipelines."

Job listings at Westfield State are up 11 percent. Nearly 90 percent of Westfield State graduates who return the survey are employed full time a year after graduation, a number that has stayed fairly steady over the past decade or so, he said.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers said employers expect to hire 5.2 percent more new graduates from the class of 2016 than they hired from the class of 2015, according to it annual survey.

But employers have trimmed their hiring plans in the last few months. That 5.2 percent increase from 2015 is still fewer hires than employers were predicting to make in an earlier NACE Job Outlook. Delgado said work experience and internships are very important as always.

"Students need to get out there and make their own opportunities," he said.

Delgado said he's seeing opportunities in health care, law enforcement and business. Financial services companies, including The Hartford and the MassMutual Financial Group, have been at the university looking for customer service representatives.

Delgado said MassMutual is looking for customer service people in spite of recent layoffs in its IT department.

C&S Wholesale Grocers hired both for temporary pickers in the warehouse and also for its executive training programs.

In education, demand continues to be strong for teachers of English language learners — what used to be called English as a second language — as well as for the sciences and math and for special education.

Candace J. Serafino is interim director of career services for UMass Amherst, working with Wegman's office, which specializes in the business school.

"All of our STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates are in demand," she said. "For liberal arts grads, it is a bit more challenging."

But companies do look for liberal arts grads, including one Boston employer that has recruited on campus for its sales force.