Cities across the country are competing with one another to attract talent. With availability of talent/workforce the number one consideration site selectors and businesses look at when relocating to a new community, retaining and attracting talent are critical to our region’s success.
While it would be nice to simply flip a switch to make talent stay here, it takes focus and effort not only by the Chamber but also from businesses and our cities to create an environment attractive to young talent.
The Chamber began to lay the groundwork to create a more favorable environment for young professionals (YPs) to become better connected when it started the Young Professionals Network (YPN) South Bend 12 years ago. Millennials are a key target group in talent development, and YPN provides the perfect vehicle for YPs to develop, connect and become empowered.
While YPN can’t singularly retain and attract talent, it’s one of the tools in the toolbox that creates a culture appealing to young people. Using events as its main platform, YPN offers its attendees abundant networking opportunities to meet their peers and gives them additional personal and professional connections.
In 2016, YPN presented 26 events with a total of 1,969 attendees and has 1,700 contacts on its email list. Events provide education and information, but the greatest benefit to YPs is building relationships with peers. Events are purposely held at different venues throughout the region to immerse YPs in their community so they get to know it better. YPs learn about new restaurants and attractions, hear from elected leaders and corporate CEOs.
Jennifer Speary, external sales specialist for Venue ND taps into YPN, using it as a resource to make personal and professional connections and referrals. “I like to stay engaged in what is happening in the cities of South Bend and Mishawaka, keeping up with news, events, projects, new businesses and other activities. The more I know about South Bend and Mishawaka, the better resource I can be to my clients here at the University of Notre Dame when scheduling activities for them outside campus,” said Speary.
In the fall of 2013, the Chamber launched INTERN South Bend Region (SBR), a program to increase the quantity and quality of experiential learning in the South Bend Region. Connecting businesses to the next generation of talent is the key objective. The program provides students with real-world experiences, introduces employers to enthusiastic young people and engages interns with our community and each other.
The Chamber continues to partner with enFocus, the state and regional colleges and employers to increase the pool of post-secondary internship opportunities. Employers are encouraged to post their internships on the state portal, IndianaINTERN.net.
An added component to INTERN SBR is the Summer Community Engagement Program, which provides opportunities for interns to network, learn and explore the good things going on in the South Bend Region. Summer interns participate in weekly challenges that expose them to the community while also making great connections with fellow interns.
In 2016, 154 interns representing 36 employers participated in the summer series. In a survey of last year’s summer interns, 100% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the program positively influenced their perception of the area, and 79% indicated that they would accept a position from their summer employer.
Our cities and businesses play an integral role, particularly with quality of place considerations, in creating an environment attractive for young talent.
“South Bend is increasingly a vibrant and inclusive community for its young professionals. The Smart Streets initiative, a recently completed project that attracted over $90 million in private investment, has redesigned the downtown streetscape to be more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly,” said South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“Several new downtown apartment projects have already opened, and every month more shops, restaurants and food trucks are popping up to serve those who live and work downtown. Our place-making processes involve continuous community engagement, so residents can directly affect their neighborhoods,” he said.
With a workforce where 65% are under the age of 40, tech company KINETIC IT Solutions has had to work on creating a culture of ownership in the company to retain talent. According to Jim Peterson, owner of KINETIC, giving employees ownership in their area of expertise creates pride in their work and continues to build a strong corporate culture.
“The other side of working hard and taking ownership is having fun at and after work. It’s our opinion that enjoying your work and team is critical to having a great company,” said Peterson.
“The South Bend Region has made changes in the last 10 years that have grown the options to have fun with your team and with your friends. With great restaurants, engagement with YPN, and focus on retaining our local talent, we believe that our YPs see our area as a place to stay for their careers. For several decades, many YPs would look to larger markets to start their careers both for employment and social opportunities. The growth in our community has given professionals across all generations the ability to grow their careers while also having fun things to do after work. As our community continues to build opportunities for our YPs, we will see their numbers increase in our local businesses.”