By Kathy McCabe
Melinda Ferullo started working as an environmental engineer a week before she graduated in May from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
“I started four days aft er my last final,” said Ferullo, 21, who got hired at Watermark Environmental in Lowell. “The pay is good. The work is interesting. . . . I love working full time.”
Chris Pendleton and Justin Sacramone of Salem State University also had jobs waiting for them when they picked up their diplomas last month. Two days after graduation, Pendleton started working as an exercise specialist for Plus One Health Management, a corporate fitness firm.
“I feel lucky because physical education jobs are hard to get,” said Pendleton, 22, who lives in Haverhill. “A lot of my friends are still looking.”
Sacramone went to Walt Disney World to work as a hotel concierge, a job he hopes leads him to a management training program. “I always wanted to work for Disney,” said Sacramone, 22, of Peabody, who earned a fine arts degree. “I’m giving myself a couple years here. I want to train to be a manager in the hotels.”
The jobs picture appears to be brightening in general for new college graduates, most of whom started college in 2008 amid a national recession. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers pointed to a 10.2 percent increase in hiring among its members, the nonprofit reported in the spring.
At local colleges, more companies attended spring job fairs, where they recruited students for internships, entry-level jobs, and management training programs, according to college officials.
Raytheon, BAE Systems, and Johnson & Johnson were among the 254 companies that attended the spring job fair at UMass Lowell. The annual fair drew 40 percent more companies than in 2010, said Patricia Yates, assistant dean of career development.
“We’re known as a technology school, so we always have a preponderance of those firms recruiting here,” Yates said. “But companies are also looking for liberal arts and business students.”
Endicott College in Beverly drew 82 employers, up from about 75 last year, for its spring fair. Ebsco Publishing in Ipswich, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Omni Parker House hotel in Boston were among the participants.
“We have a lot of connections with local employers,” said Dale McLennan, director of the career center. “But we also had new employers who had never been here before. . . . That’s a good sign.”
Salem State’s spring career fair drew 20 more employers than last year, and job postings still arrive daily at the career center. “We’ve definitely seen an improvement in the number of job opportunities and internship listings that are coming in,’’ said Chris Sullivan, director of career services at Salem State. “It’s not back up to the old level, but its certainly much improved from the year before.”
Still, younger workers face a tough test to land a job. In Massachusetts, the unemployment rate for residents 20 to 24 years old was 13.1 percent last year, up from 7.9 percent in 2008, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s still really a struggle for kids,” said Paul Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “I was really hopeful at the beginning of the year that jobs would pick up, but that didn’t happen.”
The employment rate for college graduates under age 25 dropped to 74 percent this year, from 76 percent in 2010, he noted .
“There really isn’t any evidence to show that college graduates are doing that much better,” said Harrington, a former labor economist at Northeastern University.
Massachusetts college graduates may benefit from the state’s improving economy. The state’s unemployment rate for May was 6 percent, well below the national rate of 8.2 percent, according to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
“Massachusetts has done better than the country as a whole,” Harrington said. “Around that whole 495-128 [highway] belt, there are a lot of opportunities. That helps kids.”
Local graduates said they found their jobs by networking and interning at companies.
Pendleton interned at Merrimack College as a strength and conditioning coach, and at a fitness center in Salem. A professor forwarded him an e-mail he received from the district manager of Plus One, seeking candidates for an open position. “I was starting my job search and this came along,” he said. “I interviewed and eventually got the job.”
The firm develops corporate wellness programs. Pendleton, who majored in sports movement science, works at business offices in Quincy and Waltham, advising employees on diet, exercise, and other health topics. “I like it because people actually want to get personally trained,” he said. “You don’t have to coax them.”
He applied for 15 jobs at colleges, YMCAS, and other fitness-related businesses. He also interviewed to be a physical therapy assistant. “I wanted to deal with people, not just give them workouts,” said Pendleton, who grew up in Amesbury. “I wanted to help them get motivated to be healthy.”
Ferullo started interning in the Westford office of Amec, a global engineering firm, right after graduating from Dracut High School. She first did clerical tasks, such as printing out drawings. After her freshman year at UMass Lowell, she gradually took on more engineering duties, such as drawing plans. “It was a great experience. I got used to going into an engineering office and seeing what they did,” she said.
She interned last summer at Watermark Engineering, helping to monitor the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. In February, Watermark offered her a full-time job. “I definitely think internships helped me,” said Ferullo, who now is working on ground-water monitoring reports. “I was able to show people how well I could work.”
Sacramone’s ticket to Walt Disney World came by way of an internship. In the fall of 2010, he interned at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where he helped to manage character shows. He also learned how to usher thousands of people into an amphitheater for a water and fireworks show. “I had never done anything on that scale before,” he said. “I learned so much about crowd control. . . . There are a lot of really great internships. I really recommend it.”