How to avoid underemployment after college

When the decision is made after high school to go to college have you ever thought about what to major in?

There are many college graduates that have built successful careers after financing their education through student loans. However there are other college graduates that have been experiencing hardship from being underemployed.

College tuition has increased 250% since the 1980’s. As of 2017-2018 the average cost per year for an in-state public school was $20,770 and for non-profit private schools the average cost was $46,950 per year.

Since the amount of student loan debt in the United States as of 2019 is $1.6 trillion among 44 million borrowers and the average per capita owed is almost $34,000 it’s more important than ever before to do your homework before deciding on a major.

What is underemployment?

Despite an improving economy there are still a lot of degree holders that are underemployed. This means that job candidates that are for full time work can only get either contract or part time roles in the fields that they were trained for or the positions are ones the candidate is overqualified for and the same low self-esteem and negative health effects that the unemployed face. 

How is unemployment different than underemployment?

Unemployment is a situation in which able bodied people that are looking for a job can’t find one vs. underemployment which is able bodied people working at jobs they are overqualified for.

What causes underemployment?

There are a lot of fields that have a problem with the supply of workers being greater than the demand for workers. 

Underemployment can be caused by layoffs, technological change or if there are too many people graduating with college degrees in fields that are not in high demand.

These workers have to accept jobs that are beneath them to make ends meet.

Underemployed college graduates cause problems for workers without college degrees competing for the same entry level jobs.

What are the long term consequences of underemployment?

A long term consequence of being underemployed after graduating from college can include staying behind in your field after starting off behind 5 years prior. Also, many perspective employers do not look too kindly on an inconsistent work history that included only part time jobs and gaps in overall employment.

How do you avoid becoming underemployed?

There are many ways you can avoid underemployment:

Plan ahead while still in college: While in college it’s important to look into what the hottest fields are for job growth. 

Extracurricular activities: Playing sports, enjoying a hobby and performing volunteer work are great ways to not only enrich your life but also your career.

Networking: Building a network with other people in your field along with prospective employers helps graduates get jobs.

Internships: Any kind of work experience program is important for building the foundational skills needed to excel in a career.

Vocational Training: Some college graduates out of desperation seek vocational training to escape underemployment. After receiving practical training at either a community college or a trade school graduates apply to become apprentices and get paid to learn on the job.

Progress in your current field: Even if you have a job in your chosen field it is important to go outside your comfort zone by learning new skills. By doing this you can progress in your field and by not doing this you are at risk of outgrowing your job and slowly becoming underemployed due to not keeping up with changes that come along.

My personal underemployment story

I graduated Worcester State University in 2005 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography and Earth Science with a concentration in Environmental Studies.

It took over a year to get a job in my field testing soil samples and concrete core samples for an Engineering company. The job was part time and the amount of work was inconsistent.

After a year I did find a job with a Surveying and Mapping company that was involved in Mortgage Inspection Plans for houses being bought or sold, however this job was not full time instead it was a contract position that lasted two years.

Even back in 2008 all the signs we there of the coming economic apocalypse we now call the Great Recession. My job involved collecting information for inspection plans for houses being foreclosed on. I was busy at the time due to a massive wave of foreclosures occurring at the time. Due to the mortgage meltdown I was out of work.

After five years of underemployment I had enough so I decided to enroll at a trade school to study Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC).

The program lasted a year and a half and I got a full time job six months after graduation. The job involved traveling throughout New England repairing submersible grinder pumps for sewer systems.

This job was dirty, demanding and the pay was low, however I was desperate for a full time job with health benefits and overtime pay. After spending almost three years of working 55 hour plus work weeks and being on a rotating on call schedule I was able to pay my student loans off as of 2015.

My pump job experience along with my college and vocational education helped with getting licensed to operate a Waste Water Treatment Plant.

The job is full time with benefits and with opportunities for overtime. If you ever get stuck in the vicious underemployment trap like I was in there is a way out.

Have you ever been underemployed?

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