Job fair offers hope in darkened economy

133 organizations attended the fair Monday, up from the 85 last spring.

Jeff Hargarten

Lines of job-seeking students wound around TCF Bank Stadium, all of them searching for opportunities in a declining economy.

Record numbers of recruiters and students attended TuesdayâÄôs Fall 2011 Science and Engineering Career Fair as companies increase focus on hiring new interns this summer.

About 130 companies attended the fair, up from 85 last year, coordinator Mark Sorenson-Wagner said. Twenty companies were turned away because the space in the stadium had reached capacity.

Sorenson-Wagner said the turnout is especially impressive considering the economy.

Only 12 percent of Twin Cities employers expect to make new hires this year, while 11 percent are planning layoffs, according to an employment outlook survey released Tuesday by Manpower Employment âÄî a national recruitment firm.

But several of the major corporations attending the fair are part of a job-creating initiative by the White House. The companies pledged to double their engineering internships for 2012.

Companies have used internships as proving grounds for full-time employees in the last few years, Sorenson-Wagner said.

âÄúItâÄôs almost like test-driving the talent,âÄù he said.

About 2,000 students browsed for jobs, more than at previous fairs.

While most companies were national names, many local businesses participated, coordinator Meaghan VanderSanden said.

She said the career center at the UniversityâÄôs College of Science and Engineering had reached out to more graduate students this year.

Graduate student Michael Koester was lined up waiting to speak to MedtronicâÄôs recruiter. As a mechanical engineering student, he knows his skills are in demand.

âÄúI think internships help to strengthen my résumé,âÄù he said. âÄúThey put me ahead of other candidates.âÄù

Koester just started his masterâÄôs degree, but had previous internships and for now is âÄútesting the watersâÄù for what he wants to do.

Sorenson-Wagner said that 90 percent of 2009-10 CSE graduates were employed, down from almost 98 percent before the recession.

Luis Caceres, an engineering undergraduate, applied to Exxon Mobile with an interest in developing renewable energies and green technology.

Caceres is a year away from graduating, but said he would accept a full-time position beforehand to secure his future in this economy.

Amy Sheehan, a Hormel Foods Corporation recruiter, said she was looking for candidates with prior internship experience. So did Christine Klema, a recruiter with Dell. But both said students with good grades, great résumés and professional manners are selected foremost.

Klema said Dell is part of the White House initiative. She said there was a âÄúhuge push for new hiresâÄù nationwide.

Beth Redfield, an Intel recruiter, said Intel was âÄúdefinitely committedâÄù to meeting the promise to the White House, and is planning to hire 2,600 new college graduates and 1,600 student interns in the next year.