Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Possible Talent Retention Strategies

I've read the full report I referenced yesterday. The author strikes a somewhat optimistic tone about effectively retaining talent:

Given these findings, one might ask how this information is useful for policymakers, employers, and officials trying to stem the net loss of human capital from their communities. The first point to make here is that, unfortunately, this research shows that the highest achieving students are apt to leave if given the right opportunity. But perhaps it does not have to be so. Some of the more surprising findings are found in the motivations and future priorities students expressed in their senior years of college. For instance, students who were more likely to stay in their home state cited being “well-off financially” and “having time for extracurricular activities” as being important to them. They also noted that they wanted to pursue “intellectually challenging work.” These provide some clues to what it takes for students to want to stay local, and policymakers and employers might want to think of programs that might keep the brightest students from moving away. In some ways, this is not unlike the ideas that sprang forth after Florida’s (2002) suggestion that states find better ways of attracting and retaining the “creative class.”

I'm still skeptical. The conclusions drawn don't demonstrate a strong understanding of talent migration. For example, the following paragraph:

Of course, this is another way of preventing the brightest students from leaving. If they are moving to another state to pursue opportunities, it is also perfectly feasible that these students might have stayed in the area if the opportunities were there as well. This is evidenced by the highly significant relationship between mobility and economic outcomes. States with higher real GDPs, higher employment, and more firm growth tend to correlate with a movement and pull of students toward them. These are also the states that, according to the Beacon Hill Competitiveness Index, strongly embrace innovation and knowledge. If this is the case, state-level policymakers should devote their energies to growing their economies, and in so doing, economic opportunity might stem the loss of talent. That said, a rising tide might not be enough to stop all “brain drain,” as some occupational choices will almost certainly take students elsewhere.

This hypothesis is easily tested. Look at the out-migration rates of talent from states with "higher real GDPs, higher employment, and more firm growth." Do those local graduates tend to stay put more readily? At this point, the study begins to unravel. Once again I note how net migration is confused with out-migration.

We are stuck with an outdated mode of thinking about workforce development. The model doesn't fit the economy. Yet we cling to it as if we didn't have a choice in the matter. We do have other options.

No comments: