Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Retention Efforts Target Wrong Age Group

I figure that regions and states spend at least $1 billion per year to combat brain drain. It's a colossal waste. Worse, we tend to focus our efforts on retaining young adults who are the most geographically mobile. The strategy is wildly popular and, truth be told, dumb. Some clarity on the matter from Australia:

Australia doesn't have a problem with brain drain. While 35 per cent of skilled emigrants go to Britain and Ireland, and the US and New Zealand attract 10 per cent each, a new report on the net gains from international skilled movement found that most are under 30 and leave to see the world.

The report by Monash University's Bob Birrell, Virginia Rapson and T. Fred Smith for the Immigration Department did find those aged 30 to 44 were likelier to stay abroad for a relatively long period.

Actual migration research touting counter-intuitive results is the status quo for talent policy. Unfortunately, we rarely adjust our sights in light of the new information. We plow ahead and try the same approach. It's easy money for an organization positioning itself as an expert on Millennials and what they want.

Millennials want to travel and see new places. Millennials don't want to stay in their hometowns, no matter how cool everyone else thinks it is. As the report indicates, we should be more concerned about the exodus of talent aged 30 to 44. Let the graduates sow their wild oats. Many of them will come back. But a mid-career professional with a family? You'll likely never see her again.

I've advocated for the attraction of the 30-44 cohort. They are likely to stick around once you get them there. Good luck retaining a recent college graduate who moved to your city. You might call them place sluts. Hipsters are particularly salacious, following the scene wherever it might pop up. The good news is that they pave the way for thirtysomethings, who price out all the twentysomethings your town spent so much money trying to retain.

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