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Employers will face tough competition for talent in the 2017-18 job market, thanks to a seven-year growth streak in the college labor market, according to Michigan State University’s Recruiting Trends, the largest annual survey of employers in the nation.

This year’s graduates will enter one of the longest sustained periods of job growth, which puts them at an advantage, said Phil Gardner, survey author and director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute.

Fueled by turnover and company growth, hiring is expected to increase 19 percent, driven by a 15 percent increase for bachelor’s degrees and 40 percent for associate’s degrees.

“I’m stilled wowed at how strong this market is,” Gardner says. “There should be no complaints anywhere about jobs. So if students aren’t ready, they’re going to get passed over.”

Recruiting Trends 2017-18 summarizes data from 3,370 employers from every major industrial sector from every state. The employers represented in the survey plan to hire 74,000 new graduates.

Of note, small companies plan to add two to four more new hires than last year and are recruiting actively at the associate’s level.

The competitive college labor market has provided employers with challenges, Gardner says. For small companies, the largest challenge is finding candidates with “soft skills,” such as cultural appreciation, flexibility, empathy and teamwork. At the same time, larger companies report competition from other employers as their largest hurdle in hiring college graduates.

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