Jay Culpepper: ‘Justice’ Graduate Turns to Classroom after Finding Work Proves Hard

In the three months since he graduated from Florida A&M with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Jay Culpepper has found himself with a collection of highlighted classified newspaper ads.

As half-packed cardboard moving boxes sit on the floor, Culpepper expressed the frustration of knowing the newspaper he once used to find work would be used to protect his glassware.

In this troubled economy, Culpepper is one of thousands of students who graduated this year and are struggling to find work. Many might be forced to find a job outside their area of expertise.

 “You mean to tell me I learn one thing,” said Culpepper. “Now I have to find work that is outside my area.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 54 percent of graduates under the age of 25 and with a bachelor’s degree went without jobs last year. Finding himself in that same category, Culpepper was encouraged by his mother, Angela Culpepper, to move back home and try to find work.

“I know it was probably the last thing he wanted to do, but I thought it would be a great idea just to help him get on his feet,” Angela Culpepper said. “I told him not to overlook a job especially in this day and age.”

Jay Culpepper took his mother’s advice and took the Florida Teacher Certification Examination, which he passed, and is now planning to pursue a career in education. He hopes to teach middle school social studies.

“The bottom line is that although many employers choose to train their employees, employers want to hire people that are prepared to do a job today,” said Jay Culpepper. “Experience would’ve made me more competitive.”

In 2011, 72 percent of employers expressed the importance of having workers who know the field by saying that they prefer to hire prospective employees with relevant experience, according to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Aside from the much larger issue of high numbers of college graduates working outside of their fields of study, efforts to create jobs from increasing business, company growth or replacing retiring workers may help solve the problem facing many graduates.

Jerral Stewart hopes his efforts to network at a recent internship spare him from a situation similar to Culpepper’s when he graduates next year.

“I know nowadays trying to find work is tough,” said Stewart, a 22-year-old FAMU senior. “But by the time when I walk across that stage I want to make sure that I’ve done all I can to make the college-to-work transition go smoothly.”

Stewart currently has an internship with Wells Fargo and has networked with supervisors as well as co-workers to ensure that he has taken the necessary steps to landing job as soon as he graduates.

“I can’t put a finger on how many times I’ve introduced myself and shaken hands,” Stewart said.