In today’s knowledge and technology-driven economy, companies thinking of relocating are looking for cities with a highly skilled work force. An essential ingredient, therefore, of economic development of a region is the retention of young professionals.
As the economic downturn drags on, we are losing more and more of our talented workers, especially the younger ones, to competitor cities.
How can we slow or stop the ““brain drain””?
Many young professionals first decide on where they want to live and then look to find a job in that place, requiring cities to make themselves attractive to these workers.
How can we do that? Below are my top 10 suggestions. Many of them take a long-term, community-wide commitment. Some of them can be incorporated into your organization and daily life. The longer we delay in implementing a stop-loss strategy, the longer we delay the positive benefits to our region.
We must rebrand ourselves into a vibrant city tolerant of diverse people and lifestyles. Younger workers value equity and have more open-minded attitudes. To attract and retain young talent, we need to make them welcome and give them hope for advancement, no matter what their backgrounds are.
Dr. Tom Duening, El Pomar Chair of Business and Entrepreneurship at UCCS, suggests we take advantage of being located in the Lifestyle Belt. ““We have it all,”” he says, ““the natural beauty, the bluest skies and honest, genuine people.”” Since Generations X and Y tend to value lifestyle over power and money, we need to promote and capitalize on these attributes.
Regional organizations should encourage continued education and retention of employees through flex time and tuition support, giving scholarships and supporting local colleges.
Graduates from local colleges are more likely to stay and work in our community, keeping that knowledge in our area. Forward-thinking organizations that provide paid and unpaid internships to local college graduates, mentor them and eventually hire them will increase the chances of retaining the younger professionals over the long term.
Quality of life is important to younger people — and benefits older generations, too. Our community needs to commit to having a high quality environment for education, arts and culture, healthy outdoor and family activities.
We need a vibrant, safe scene for entertainment and nightlife where friends can connect and spend time together. This means creating an exciting downtown and other hubs for socializing, dining, and leisure. We also need to create, support and encourage organizations like the Chamber Rising Professionals that brings young professionals together.
Members of Generation X are more inclined to volunteer their time to non-profits that match their interests. If you are a non-profit, develop meaningful volunteer opportunities for them. It doesn’t always have to be about fundraising. If you are an employer, encourage and support volunteerism among your workers.
Is your organization sustainable? That term gets a lot of play these days, but it goes far beyond recycling and turning off your computers at night. It includes ethical business practices, responsible stewardship of resources and employees, and green technology. Organizing as a sustainable entity has economic payoffs, too, and helps in the attraction and retention of younger workers.
By extension, is our community sustainable? Affordability, safety, transit, civic aesthetics, local food sources, and equity are important issues for educated younger workers. How are we addressing these amenities and services that younger workers expect to find in a livable city?
Work together as a community. The brain drain can’t be solved by bringing in one large corporation, nor can it be solved by the local non-profits or governments. It will take a group effort from every sector to make our region the kind of place in which well-educated young workers will want to live and raise their families — our next generation of well-educated employees.
Venkat Reddy is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.