James Sawyer's new blog Beyond Marketing had an interesting post on asking young people leaving the area to participate in an exit interview. While we do not have a formal process of interviewing, we have informally been doing it for quite some time. Thanks to champions like James, we can bring even more attention to this broad initiative.
A couple of things to note and add to James comments...
1. Roanoke Connect has over 2500 people - some living in the region and some not - who are primarily Generation X and Y. We have been able to track about 60 success stories through this online tool of about 18 months. Of those 2500, I have had at most maybe 10% contact directly by phone, email or visited with them in person. I keep a file of these folks and follow up on a regular basis until they find a job or leave the area. Of the 10% about 20% of those will actually follow up with me. I have found that those who follow up with me typically get a job locally in due time. Follow up is so crucial.
2. The easy thing for job seekers to do is to say there are no jobs in the region. That is simply an untrue statement. Of course there are not as many jobs here as elsewhere, but they are here. The two questions we have to ask job seekers - and these are tough questions - are (1) what are you doing to make yourself employable in the local labor market by obtaining the skill sets that are in demand, and (2) are you spending enough time in your job search and how are you spending that time?
Question 1 - We have young professionals leaving colleges and univeristies with good skill sets, but very few billable skill sets. They are a dime a dozen and therefore, are having a difficult time getting noticed, recognized and differentiating themselves. They think Northern Virignia has more jobs and they do, but often times they go there and a "professional job" is waiting for them and a couple of years later they figure out their "professional job" was not that great, coupled with the realization that their quality of life has suffered, and you see many wanting to return to Roanoke.
Question 2 - The experts will tell you to get the job you want, you must spend 40 hours a week for 3 months, just job searching, to get the job that you want. That equates to about 500 hours. I assure you few spend that much time before giving up and moving on. Second, up to 80% of jobs are never advertised and are uncovered through personal networking. In addition, only about 10% of jobs are obtained via the Internet. What is interesting is that you ask job seekers how much time they are spending and what they are doing during that time, and you can begin to see why they have not been successful.
3. James is right that we cannot ask everyone to move or start a business, but the option must be presented to them. If the recruitment of companies is not yielding the type of jobs young professionals want, if existing companies are not growing at rates we hope, then more entrepreneurs creating jobs for others is needed similar to what Pat Matthews has done with Webmail.us. This is growth we have yet to tap and more resources are needed to facilitate this growth.
4. TOLERANCE - this is a key component. Making people feel welcomed no matter what the background is. Do we have a welcoming environment among young people and all people in the region?
If jobs are the single most critical component, then why does Austin, TX have the highest percentage of PhDs who are grossly underemployed by serving as bartenders?
If jobs are the single most critical component, then why is that a job seekers who has a family with two kids continue to stay in Roanoke despite being unemployed for over 18 months?
If jobs are the single most critical component, then why in recent study do 75% of young adults under the age of 28 select location first, then the job?
The old sitcom CHEERS says it best, "sometimes you want go, where everybody knows your name, and they are always glad you came..."
5. Bottom line - the attraction and retention of young adults can be summed in offering programs and events focused on things to do and jobs available. The perception is that in the region there are very little of each, the reality is that there are more than you think. The critical element in focusing on this topic for 5+ years is that the real issue is a lack of effective promotion and communication of things to do and jobs available between everyone. Because each generation is using an entirely different communication outlets, inefficiencies are occurring. I would argue this as an explanation as the root cause of the exit interview comments.
Thanks to James for getting this conversation going. Would love to hear another comments.