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  • Employers Expect to Maintain Hiring for Class of 2021 College Graduates

    BETHLEHEM, PA—Although college hiring has indeed been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, steps employers have taken have allowed them, at least to this point, to blunt its potential full impact, according to a new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).  

    NACE’s Job Outlook 2021 survey found that employers expect to essentially maintain hiring for Class of 2021 graduates at 2020 levels, with a drop of just 0.1%. (See Figure 1.)

    There are a couple of considerations to weigh. First, the outlook for Class of 2021 graduates is more positive than expected given that the pandemic shut down the economy, plummeted the stock market, and raised the unemployment rate. In part, this has been offset as employers shifted their college recruiting approaches and operations to meet—or at least account for—the challenges the pandemic has created.

    Second, in several employment sectors—such as chemical (pharmaceutical) manufacturing, miscellaneous support services, information, and wholesale trade—organizations are increasing their college hiring, which is helping to drive the overall hiring outlook.

    Still, the shift the pandemic has caused in the job market for college graduates is evident in the percentages of employers that are planning to increase and decrease their college hiring this year. While more than half of respondents expect to maintain their hiring level from last year, 31% of responding employers expect to decrease their hiring this year, a jump from just 6.3% that intended to shrink their hiring for Class of 2020 graduates. On the other hand, 16.5% are planning to increase their hires this year, which is down from 45.5% last year. (See Figure 2.)

    Figure 1: Job Outlook hiring projections, 2017 – 2021

    Recruiting Year Fall Spring
    2021 -0.1% NA
    2020 5.8% 6.3%
    2019 16.6% 10.7%
    2018 4.0% -1.3%
    2017 5.8% 5.0%
    Source: Job Outlook 2021, National Association of Colleges and Employers

    Figure 2: Employers’ hiring expectations, by percent of respondents, 2017 – 2021

    Recruiting Year Increase Maintain Decrease
    2021 16.5% 52.5% 31.0%
    2020 45.5% 48.2% 6.3%
    2019 38.6% 57.4% 4.0%
    2018 43.7% 46.7% 9.6%
    2017 36.3% 52.1% 11.6%
    Source: Job Outlook 2021, National Association of Colleges and Employers

    About Job Outlook: The Job Outlook survey is a forecast of hiring intentions of employers as they relate to new college graduates. Each year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveys its employer members about their hiring plans and other employment-related issues to project the market for new college graduates for the current class and to assess a variety of conditions that may influence that market. Data for the Job Outlook 2021 survey were collected from July 27, 2020, through September 11, 2020. This year, NACE not only surveyed 931 of its employer members, but it also surveyed 2,368 nonmember employer organizations. A total of 227 surveys were returned; 158 were NACE members and the remaining 69 were nonmembers. NACE’s Job Outlook 2021 report is available at    

    About NACE: Since 1956, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has been the leading source of information about the employment of college graduates. For more information, visit NACE maintains a virtual press room for the media.