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Keeping talent in Central Nebraska

According to a 2014 Gallup study­, millennials— people who are 30 years old and younger— already make up 36 percent of the U.S. workforce. This percentage is expected to increase. By 2025, this segment of the population will make up 75 percent of the labor force. Companies are dealing with a working collective that is more educated, has higher expectations and is more connected than any generation before it.

With the unemployment rate continuing to drop, companies are struggling to find employees that are willing to play the long game. The economy in central Nebraska is dependent on bringing not only mid-sized and large employers to this area, but in order to attract those companies, there must be available talent to feed open positions.

Keeping talent in central Nebraska is certainly a priority task. Often, students leave the state for college or to begin their careers, but then return to be close to their families and for the quality of life central Nebraska has to offer.

Millennial Dr. Peter Longo (28)  returned to the Kearney area to open his orthodontic practice.

“For my wife (a Kearney native and pharmacist) and I, returning to Kearney was an easy choice,” Longo said. “Central Nebraska, and of course Kearney, represents the best of Nebraska. This is evident in our first-rate schools, attractive parks, cutting-edge healthcare, robust industry and a deeply committed work force. Kearney is an active, vibrant, and ideal community for individuals of all ages.”

In a study published in Open for Business in 2014, we learned that many college students are looking for employers who offer working benefits that differ from what was expected from their parents when they entered the workplace. Today’s new working generation wants flexible work schedules to ensure work-life balance. They want employers who give back to their communities and have a philanthropic cause tied to their mission. They want learning opportunities and the chance to grow in their field.

According to Sujan Patel, vice president of When I Work, “Today, millennials aren’t as concerned about making a living as they are about making a life. They want to do work that matters— and if they can find a way to live on less income to do it, they’re more than willing to give it a try.”

The challenge central Nebraska faces is attracting emerging talent, keeping existing talent and marketing itself as a talent hub for potential businesses. This is not an exclusive issue. Many communities in the Midwest face this dilemma and even more so with the economy on the upswing.

The fast growing technology industry tends to select geographical areas where there are like-minded companies as this indicates the environment, resources and political agendas that support their progressively growing business sector.

Culture is a powerful factor for emerging talent.

In a June 2014 MIT survey of graduating students, the top three factors that influence job interest were 1) creative and challenging work, 2) fit with the culture and environment, and 3) opportunity to make an impact.

It is in the best interest of potential employers who are on the talent hunt to have a clear, understandable positioning statement for recruits in terms of what they can offer to employees. This can be creative and sometimes outrageous if the company wants to compete with companies located in large cities. Some of the top companies to attract talent have perks such as dog-friendly offices, unlimited time off, free time for personal reflection and ideas, free haircuts, massages and even laundry service.

Several cities anticipated this shift and turned their efforts toward creating trendy neighborhoods with the “downtown” feel, but they are tricked out with tech opportunities and are rich in cultural experiences. They have achieved this by funding the rehabilitation of downturned neighborhoods and city centers and building new infrastructure such as bike paths, parks and creative workspaces. Cities did this in the hopes that they would attract a younger, hipper population. This shift is commonly known as “Creative Class-ification,” an approach that was developed by urbanist, Richard Florida.

The theory, however, has its critics. Many midwestern advocates feel instead of rebuilding and restructuring at such a high cost, communities with less than 75,000 people should spend that money promoting the already positive attributes of small-town lifestyle like the connectedness, quality of schools and neighborhoods, affordable housing and family-friendly activities.

Either way, once a community has identified the type of employees it wants to attract and recruit, it is clear that showcasing the lifestyle desired by that demographic is important. States that have seen the most influx of the millennials have progressive legislation and forward-thinking politics. In a recent poll from Gallup, millennials have indicated that they are all about equality— in every aspect. They want equal pay and treatment of men and women in the workplace, 74 percent of millennials support same sex marriage. This is obvious when looking at the growth patterns in states that have recently moved forward with some of the more liberal issues. The top 10 states that have seen the most increase in population include South Carolina, Washington, Arizona, Florida, South Dakota, Nevada, Texas, Colorado, Utah and North Dakota, respectively. Of these 10 states, 7 have legalized same sex marriage.

In order to grow central Nebraska in talent, then make the transition into attracting new businesses, area leaders will be tasked with getting creative and marketing their communities in an appealing way to their target demographic. Here are some important components to that process:

Reach the young students living in Nebraska and plant the seed. This can be done through programs like Junior Achievement as well as working with educators to arrange business field trips, job shadowing and internships, and through experiential learning. Mentorships are also a great way to encourage youth to stay or return home when they are ready for a career.

Identify the target demographic wanted in central Nebraska communities. By first making this distinction, a city or town can then devise a plan to reach that population and meet their needs in order to attract them to this area. Ask people from the desired demographic who don’t live in your area, why and what they look for in terms of a community.

Market the lifestyle and quality of work opportunities to potential employees. This requires cities to really get creative, reach beyond their borders and invest in some aggressive public relation efforts in order to let people know what is available here. There are many PR opportunities such as the recent competition that recognized the city of Kearney as one of America’s best communities. See page 54 for more information.

Offer incentives and referral programs to existing professionals. Working together with the talent that exists will help cities and companies reach others. We are all just a few degrees away from knowing someone who might consider living and working in central Nebraska. Relocation packages, referral bonuses and other creative initiatives are things that cities should consider.

Stay connected to the local labor force and be responsive. It is important to continuously be in touch with what the community wants in terms of lifestyle, quality of education, and cultural opportunities. This can be done through town hall meetings, surveys and community events.

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