As I mentioned in my previous posts, one of the goals of my current work is retaining college graduates in the state of Michigan. Studies have shown that where young college graduates choose to locate will help drive economic growth because: (1) companies will locate in a region with a well-educated workforce and (2) young professionals are often the entrepreneurs behind new startup businesses. (See for example, Michigan Future’s report, "A New Path to Prosperity? Manufacturing and Knowledge-Based Industries as Drivers of Economic Growth.")
Other studies show that young college graduates choose to live in places where they believe that jobs are plentiful. (For example, job prospects were ranked at the top of the list of attributes in students’ preferred places to live along, with safe streets, affordability and walkability in the State’s Cool Cities survey of college students and recent graduates in 2004)
The chicken and the egg features of this cycle make crafting growth strategies perplexing. To grow our economy, we need to keep educated workers in the state in order to attract more employers to provide even more jobs and retain even more workers. To keep those college graduates in the state in the first place, we need students to believe that there are jobs for them. How do we do that in a state where unemployment is currently 7.6%?
First, we change perceptions, and second, we help those students to make connections. We need to get the message out to students that there ARE good job opportunities for college graduates in Michigan. The fact is that recent data from the US Census Department and Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth (DLEG) show that the unemployment rate for college graduates in the state of Michigan is only 3.4% and current trends indicate that job growth will be faster for occupations requiring higher education than for those requiring less than a college degree.
Furthermore, small businesses are where a majority of the state’s employees work. The DLEG’s data show that of the state’s 3.5 million workers employed in private industry, only 20% work in businesses with more than 500 workers.
So, if the large companies in the state are employing only 20% of the workforce, but those same large companies are the ones, as I discussed in my previous posts, that have been historically more likely to be visible through their involvement on our university campuses, then getting these smaller companies plugged in to our universities should expose our students to connections with the 80% of the state’s employers that they had previously been missing out on. Meeting these growing businesses should solve the perception problem.
This explains why, perhaps counter-intuitively, to create a program that will truly make a difference in college student retention, the first event that we are planning for The MORE Program is an event focused on making connections between the university and businesses.
We believe that when a university develops a strong connection with these companies, the student-company connections will follow. They will happen when the small, growing, knowledge- and innovation-based companies we have invited to campus decide to sponsor student research projects, or when they hire a professor as a consultant and that professor hires a student as her research assistant.
They will also happen when the company leaders come to campus as guest lecturers, such as the speakers in the University of Michigan’s new Distinguished Innovators Speaker Series. Each Friday afternoon, business, academic and government leaders involved in entrepreneurship address an open audience of students and the public about a range of topics on the subject of technology-based business entrepreneurship (See video of past events and the future schedule M-Powered).
Finally, these connections will happen at the Talent Fair portion of our Entrepreneurial Opportunities Day, where students will introduce themselves to company representatives and learn more about their growing businesses.
Once those student-company connections happen, where will they lead? Like all networking contacts, they need to be cultivated, but with a little company interest and student effort, these connections could become internships and jobs. More internships and jobs mean more college graduates retained, and Michigan’s cycle of growth will be accelerated.
The good news is that there is a real synergy in the region around the subject of internships, and I’ll share more of the good news in my next post.