Commentary: 10 ideas on how to stop our ‘brain drain’

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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.

6 Responses to Commentary: 10 ideas on how to stop our ‘brain drain’

  1. It is an issue of rising expectations. Colorado Springs recently has been noted for its ‘diminishing of expectations’. One answer is community fiber. It will bring the world to us. And its talent. Can you imagine the work force we would develop if all e-environments were able to communicate with each other? How about wifi if the community fiber broadcasts from all locations. No down time in any communicable device. I know that Steve Jobs would have been happy…:+}

    William P. Murray
    June 12, 2010 at 8:32 am

  2. Things may have changed since I left Clorado Springs back in 1996. I really wanted to stay in the “Springs” but found it difficult to compete with the experienced military personel that were retiring from the military as well as more experienced hires willing to relocate from out of state. My impression was, given the benefits the military receive after retiring, there is a willingness to work for a little less than you might get paid elsewhere given the quality of life, etc. in Colorado. This is a great thing for business – skilled employees for reasonable cost – but not so good for someone fresh out of college. I had one professor encourage his class to get their degree, find work out of state, and once the experience and skills were obtained, come back to Colorado. I had a hard time finding work up and down the front range even though I did very well academically. After about a year I left the state and have done well professionally since then. My wife and I now have our sights on Colorado and hope to move back there someday if and when the opportunity arises.

    Todd K Miula
    June 29, 2010 at 8:41 am

  3. I agree with Todd. As a young professional starting out with my career, it was very difficult to find a job in the area of Colorado Springs. It seems that most of the jobs require years of experience. There is a limited number of entry-level jobs that have the promise of a big career later on. It seems the only way to get on the right track with your career is to move away and then come back to Colorado once you have had some experience.

    Alicia
    June 29, 2010 at 1:11 pm

  4. “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.”

    Rebranding means nothing if the city is in fact and remains intolerant. I’ve lived in 5 different states and two countries and have never experienced the kind of closed mindedness I witnessed in Colorado Springs. Even Professors at the UCCS College of Business occasionally proselytized during classes and had a distinctive right wing Christian evangelical bent to their teachings. I had co-workers who kept 5 or 6 bibles on their desk and there was tangible pressure to join bible study groups at lunch.

    The erosion of civic services that have been well publicized also illustrate an accurate picture of the city. Colorado Springs is a city that elevates the private over the public in extreme ways that are anachronistic. Vibrant, educated people flock to places like Portland, Austin, New York, Boston and Denver where quality of life is consistently rated better than in places with minimal public services, transportation, arts, etc. I’m not sure how the Springs can evolve into a more vibrant community when the citizens won’t even pay a little in taxes to keep their neighborhood streetlights on and have garbage picked up in the parks.

    Mark
    July 2, 2010 at 11:45 am

  5. http://www.denverpost.com/lifestyles/ci_15437320

    This pretty much sums up the rest of the reason young college educated people find the Springs unattractive. The me me me attitude has been taken to the extreme at the expense of having a vibrant community.

    Younger folks are more likely to need late bus service as they save to buys cars, more likely to use parks as they may not have yards, etc.

    Live in Colorado Springs? Who’d even want to visit?

    Mark
    July 5, 2010 at 7:12 am

  6. Dr. Reddy, you’re spot on in so many ways.

    Politics aside, Boulder has a huge up on us in terms of VC, technology and innovation. Denver has major corporations to boot.

    We need a healthy dose of both.

    That said, I am bullish on UCCS – the strength of the U can help mightily in contributing to this wonderful region’s success.

    M

    Mike Pacitto
    July 16, 2010 at 10:29 pm