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Graduates enter 'Real World' rife with real economic woes

Thousands of college students are putting on their caps and gowns, and getting their diplomas this month. Many of those new graduates will be now be looking for work, except they're walking into the worst job market in decades. And the outlook seems grim for both traditional and non-traditional graduates.

UW-Madison senior Tim Vlietstra thought he had beaten the odds. The 21-year-old from Elkhart Lake, had a job lined up at a financial services company in Milwaukee, only to have the offer rescinded.

"Most of the people I knew that got rescinded it happened months ago," he says. "I was pretty upset it happened just a couple of weeks before I graduated."

Vlietstra recently went to an on-campus recruiting session for the health insurance claims company EDS, which has an office in Madison. EDS recruiters say they want to hire 8 to 10 people in the coming months. That picks Vliestra up just a little bit, but he's still disappointed his first job offer fell through.

"I was going to be a project manager so it was pretty much the dream job."

But career counselors like Leslie Kohlberg say students like Vlietstra should still hold on to their goals.

"It's not a good time to just eliminate that plan, but the way there, the steps toward that goal might look extremely different than you expected," she warns.

Leslie Kohlberg directs UW-Madison's College of Letters and Science Career Services. She's seen firsthand how seniors are dealing with the down job market. She says the applications for community-service programs like Teach for America and Americorps have tripled. Other students are going straight to graduate school.

Those may be good options for graduates in their early twenties. But it's not so ideal for students like Janesville resident Diane Oriza, who's raising two kids and was laid-off from the auto-supply company Lear two years ago. She then enrolled at Blackhawk Technical College and is graduating with a degree in IT security. She hopes that will increase her chances of landing a job.

But she hasn't found one yet. In the last six months, she's had a few interviews, but so far no luck.

"One that was really promising that I hoped for, said, `You know what? Not right now but that doesn't mean forever'", she recalls. "It just might take some time before they can get a job position open."

Oriza's struggle is not unique in Janesville. Last year's General Motors plant closing there has driven the city's unemployment rate to almost 14 percent, one of the highest in the state.

Because of this, Oriza's open to a long commute. She's applied to an IBM Center in Dubuque, Iowa, two and a half hours away.

"That wouldn't be a great commute ... but it would be possible to do it. Stay there for a week and come home on the weekends for the kids. It wouldn't be an ideal situation, but it would be doable."

Blackhawk Career Counselor Chris Pody says Oriza's flexibility is important in these hard times. She's seen a steady drop in jobs posted to Wisconsin Tech Connect, a job site for graduates. And for the first time their regional job fair was canceled for a lack of employers.

"Hopefully by the fall we'll have something going again for a job fair, but that would indicate this is one of the worst times we've seen in this area."

Some economists at the Department of Workforce Development say there are signs the economy will start to pick up later this year. And Pody says while it may take longer to find a job, most graduates will succeed as long as they don't give up.