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Glen Fest (The Fort Worth Star-Telegram) -- Computer science and engineering grads in the Class of 2001 are discovering a new trend in what until recently was a red-hot, high-tech job market.

Apologies.

In a telling sign of the economic downturn, companies have revoked job offers to dozens of graduates at Texas universities, including many highly recruited students who were promised jobs this fall, according to career placement officials at the schools.

Some companies are simply voiding the job offers they had extended. Others, including Intel, are offering students a separation package if they don't take the jobs that have already been offered.

Most students with technical training should still have no problem finding other jobs, observers say. But the hiring reversals compound the frustration of students over a winnowing of entry-level jobs.

"Sure, it comes as a shock," said one computer science major at the University of Texas at Arlington, who had a job offer revoked at Ericsson in Richardson. He asked that his name not be published because he was worried about alienating other potential employers. "Here, I [have to] come back to my family and say 'Hey, I don't get to move out just yet.' "

Ericcson said this month that it plans to trim as many as 12,000 jobs in a corporate restructuring to cut costs.

Students at UTA, Texas A&M University, the University of Texas, Rice University and the University of Texas at Dallas report that they have had job offers pulled.

Most of the withdrawals have come in recent weeks and have affected from a handful to more than a dozen students at each school. College placement officials said there are probably many more than they know about,

In addition, many undergraduates who lined up positions as co-ops and interns have been told their services will not be needed over the summer.

"We have heard from several of the companies, mostly telecommunications companies, that they're having to rescind some of the offers that had been extended to technical graduates," said UTA career services center director Barbara Peet. "Over the time I've been here, companies have rescinded offers here and there, where a company had a problem. But this has happened real suddenly."

The trend has caught many college placement offices by surprise. The National Association of Colleges and Employers, a college recruiting and placement trade organization, this week issued a questionnaire to members to measure the extent of the rescinded job offers.

"We're trying to find out, is it isolated by industry, and how many students is it going to affect?" said NACE spokeswoman Mimi Collins.

Several placement office directors declined to name companies that have removed job offers, although they note many are telecom companies with North Texas operations. Ericsson, which is trimming jobs, confirmed that it has been forced to take back 20 offers to students.

"It's disappointing to us as well," said company spokesman Rob Elston. "These are students we thought an awful lot of. Like the rest of the telecom and data industries, we've seen a downturn that happened much more suddenly than we expected."

Intel, which is trying to cut out 5,000 jobs through voluntary attrition, will give signing bonuses to any new-hire candidates who decline job offers previously extended by the Santa Clara, Calif.- based chip maker. Published reports state that companies such as 3M, Mercer Management, Dell Computers and Motorola have cut back on summer job offers to college students.

Not all colleges report students losing new jobs before they even start. Placement officials with Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas in Denton say no student or company has told them about rescinded job offers. They indicated that hiring was comparable with year-ago levels, and noted healthy turnouts by employers at fall and spring job fairs.

At TCU, more employers arrived at February's job fair than last year - about 53 percent more, 80 instead of 52. The increase was primarily because this year's fair was moved to a larger space and allowed more companies to participate.

"Overall, it's been good," said Bill Stowe, associate director of career services at TCU. "We haven't seen a panic yet because the job market's been so good."

But there is anecdotal evidence that a slowdown in college hiring is occurring nationwide, according to the NACE. Its winter 2001 salary survey report states that some schools reported a drop in recruiting this academic year.

The University of California at Berkeley, in the heart of slumping Silicon Valley, reportedly had to cancel a spring job fair because of lack of interest from area companies. Career services officials at the University of Iowa said the campus had a 15 percent drop in the number of companies recruiting on campus this year.

NACE terms the national college graduate job market as a "return to the norm." Modest salary increases and continued interest from multiple fields, including a modest upsurge in interest from manufacturers, bode well for new job seekers, according to the association.

Most career and placement officials agree that this spring's college graduates face a slightly longer job hunt than previous classes, and have entertained fewer offers.

A slowing economy and hiring freezes are slowing some employers' efforts, while layoffs are putting experienced candidates alongside grads in competition for openings.

TCU finance major Marcus Kain said he has found it difficult to find an opening in his field, and that's after interviews with at least 15 companies.

"With finance and accounting, there's a lot of competition out there. A lot of the big companies hired in the fall," the 23-year-old said. "I'm still waiting for that first offer."

Kain may seem anxious, but like a lot of members of the Class of 2001, he is still quietly confident about his prospects. He plans on making a decision by the end of April, meaning that a job offer should be just around the bend.

"I'm a little surprised, but not worried about the job market ," Kain said.

For students, a job with a start-up is no longer considered a promising opportunity.

Thanks to the dot-com crash in places like Silicon Valley, Austin and Boston, "that option isn't very available," said Bill Coleman, vice president of compensation for Salary.com. "It doesn't have that cache it had even 12 months ago."

Still other industries are sucking up every worker they can get.

Information Technology Association reports 900,000 empty slots for IT workers this year. Nurses with bachelor's or associate's degrees can be picky, too.

"If you're a nurse right now, you've got 10 offers, not one," said Joanette McGadney, associate dean of nursing at Texas Woman's University.

Open sales positions have inundated Kelly Swisshelm during her numerous interviews for advertising and marketing positions. The upcoming TCU grad has been knocking on doors the past two months, looking for a job in advertising or public relations in the Metroplex to start by Aug. 1.

The 22-year-old admits she is nervous about finding the right job, but doesn't plan to compromise her aspirations because of the economic outlook.

"No. 1 for me is finding a company where I can grow and where I can be happy," Swisshelm said.

(c) 2001 The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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