The class of 2023 is headed to the job market brimming with tech skills — and ambition.
More than 4 in 5 college graduates majoring in non-tech fields possess one or more technology proficiencies, such as data analytics capabilities and IT systems knowledge, according to a new Handshake report.
Roughly three-quarters plan to develop additional proficiencies in the next few years, the employment marketplace found. Handshake surveyed 954 college seniors and analyzed keyword searches and job applications created by the platform’s users.
"If you compare now versus 10 years ago, college graduates, regardless of their degree, are significantly more savvy and frankly more technical than in the past," Ilya Gaysinskiy, global head of engineering for Goldman Sachs Platform Solutions, told CIO Dive.
The number of computer and information science bachelor’s degrees conferred annually has more than doubled in the last decade, based on National Center for Educational Statistics data, to over 100,000 in 2021 from under 50,000 in 2011.
Yet, demand has outpaced supply.
As this year’s cohort plunges into the job market with resumés in hand, the challenge for business leadership is to look beyond college majors, as technical chops may lay hidden under a degree in literature, psychology or sociology. Values, compensation and opportunities for continued development guide new graduates through their job hunt, as talent-thirsty employers compete to attract needed skills.
Data analysis, product management, IT and AI are the top areas in which respondents intend to cultivate additional skills over the next few years. Non-tech majors are gravitating to adjacent skill areas, such as business analytics and design thinking, as well, the report said.
“You see a lot of liberal arts majors and majors that are not necessarily technical supplementing their coursework with data analysis, data visualization and understanding large data sets,” Christine Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at Handshake, told CIO Dive.
“They know that data really is kind of king in pretty much any industry, field or sector,” Cruzvergara said.
An influx of data and other technology skills will be good for the talent pool. With unemployment among technology professions historically low, companies throughout the economy have struggled over the last year to overcome persistent skills gaps, hampering digital transformation plans.
“There are a lot of companies out there that we don't label as tech companies that are doing a whole lot of technology development,” Jim Stratton, CTO at enterprise software company Workday, told CIO Dive late last year.
In his conversations with CIOs, Stratton said it’s common to hear about struggles to attract needed talent.
Tech beyond the tech sector
The current cohort is graduating into an economy that has pushed big tech companies, including Alphabet, Amazon, Meta and Microsoft, to freeze hiring and pare back their workforce.
Hiring in other sectors — finance, healthcare, manufacturing and retail — has counterbalanced that trend, highlighting employment opportunities beyond the traditional tech hubs.
Students have responded to those signals. Applications to tech companies decreased by four percentage points year over year, a previous Handshake report found.
Interest in jobs outside of tech, as well as in government and the nonprofit sector increased. While applications to retail companies were up 40% year over year, nonprofits and government agencies saw larger bumps of 44% and 104% respectively.
Students are also seeking jobs in the private sector that align with their values, according to the survey. “This particular generation is really focused on social issues and on working for companies that are addressing the issues that they value most,” Cruzvergara said.
Climate change is a top concern, according to Cruzvergara, and an issue closely tied to tech. Companies actively addressing sustainability are doing so through cloud adoption, data analytics and IT innovations that target greenhouse gas emissions.
“Students want to work at a company that is contributing to the solution,” Cruzvergara said, and they understand that “technology is going to be a major factor in that solution.”
Stability, salary and flexibility
Two additional factors driving employment decisions are economic uncertainty and job flexibility.
News about layoffs at brand-name companies reached campuses and realigned students' employment priorities, Cruzvergara said.
Working for a rapid-growth, big-name company is less important than practical concerns, such as salary and stability, according to the report.
The segment of graduates who prioritized company brand declined 10 percentage points between last summer and spring 2023, to just 31% of respondents. Growth rate as a driver of employment desirability dropped by 20 percentage points in the same timespan, to just 19%.
While fully remote job opportunities have become scarce, dropping to just 5% of full-time starting positions posted on Handshake, students have come around on the value of office time.
“They want the best of both worlds,” said Cruzvergara. That includes the social benefits and learning opportunities of an office environment, as well as the visibility to leadership it affords — “all of those normal things that many of us took for granted for years because we were always in person,” Cruzvergara said.
When asked to choose between fully remote or fully in person, respondents were evenly split. Most — 7 in 10 — preferred a hybrid option.
In return for employer flexibility, this cohort is willing and even eager to learn marketable tech skills.
Transcripts that include a data analytics or data visualization course are common, even among non-tech majors, as are resumes that list a computer coding skill, Cruzvergara said.
“They’re taking an extra statistics course or they're doing something online themselves, like a Google certificate or Coursera course,” said Cruzvergara. “To be perfectly honest, this is a generation that is pretty good at teaching themselves.”