Retaining College Grads is More Important Than Ever

The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Talent Retention Coordinator, Katie Jones, who manages The Network, also presents to college students about what it’s like to be a YP here. Part of that narrative is sharing her own story on why she decided to stay after graduating from Drury University. She had the opportunity to be a guest columnist with Springfield Business Journal to share her experience & talk about why retaining grads is more important than ever in the midst of everything going on. Here is the full article:

To stay in Springfield or not? I went back and forth with that decision as my time at Drury University came to a close.

I grew up in Springfield, but I wanted the excitement of a new place to live as I entered the workforce. My husband and I ultimately remained in Springfield. Several of our friends had moved to new places and we felt like maybe we were missing out on something.

We’ve both been part of starting new and exciting things here. We have a voice in shaping the future of our city. We enjoy the natural beauty of the Ozarks and access to outdoor activities. We have come to love it here. We now believe our friends that moved away are the ones missing out on the opportunities to build the life they want.

This narrative has been a major part of the story I share when speaking with college students in Springfield to encourage them to stay here after they graduate. While the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s talent retention efforts through The Network continue to engage young professionals civically and socially, we are expanding and intensifying our efforts to retain college students here.

Employers were asking the chamber, why do college students leave versus staying here upon graduation? This outreach program is helping us answer that question from employers. It’s also shaping a more strategically informed initiative to encourage college students to engage and look for a job here after graduation.

By surveying and talking with students, we’ve discovered some common misconceptions about staying in Springfield:

  • There’s not enough to do.
  • There is no opportunity for career and professional development.
  • It’s too small, and salaries are not competitive.

The chamber has developed a presentation that hits those misconceptions head-on and it’s helping. We survey students before and after our presentation. We’ve learned students are 71% more likely to consider staying here after graduation following our presentation. One student from Drury said this presentation was the tipping point for her decision to start her career here.

When I originally drafted this column in early March, the landscape was obviously much different. In the first two months of the year, we already had presented to 600 college students – more than halfway toward our goal to reach 1,000 by the end of 2020.

The coronavirus changed that trajectory with its impact on the delivery of higher education. And while we can’t make more presentations right now, with the data that we have, we can continue to refine our strategy to improve student perceptions about Springfield.

After studying best practices in talent retention, we are developing our own insider guide for college students. It will include testimonies from current students enjoying life here, great places to experience, how to enjoy the outdoors and job opportunities. We are planning to launch the guide when students return in the fall.

As we head down the path to recovery from COVID-19, it’s even more important than ever to retain the top talent coming out of our colleges and universities. It’s concerning that we’ve probably missed out on many of the graduating seniors who’ve returned home for the rest of the semester.

We’ll need to make up for that loss. Future college grads will be driving the innovation that strengthens our economic resilience. Among them we may well find those who help us prevent and respond even more effectively to these kinds of threats in the future.

Think about the recent partnership between CoxHealth and the Jordan Valley Innovation Center to use 3D printing and laser cutting to make face shields for health care providers.

That’s one of many examples of the strong infrastructure higher education and the business community have built to maximize the talent we are able to retain here.

There’s more to learn and much more to do on this front. But it is imperative we continue taking the important steps of asking students to consider remaining in Springfield, informing them of the great companies ready to hire skilled graduates and intentionally sharing with them why this is a great place to build the life they want.