The New Urgency to Retain Young Professionals Becomes Clear Nov 9 in Lincoln
The NEWbraska™ Network is based on 'thunderbolt' research that should guide every dialogue about workforce development. First: It's not about tax modernization or roads or schools or what the phrase "Good Life" really means. Young, knowledge workers are reluctant to go to work for conservative and predictable Nebraska employers, regardless of profits. They want the freedom to lead digital innovation projects and the opportunity to create value from home, on the road or wherever. They want to make a difference 'now' and they want to live in 'lifestyle' communities that can be reached by walking or bicycling, preferably in a carbon-neutral downtown.
They respect tradition and heritage, but they want 'new' in their professional lives. Openness, experimentation, rapid learning, loose-tight staffing models, boundaryless planning. NEW.
We call these people 'UrbaNaturals' because they combine two contrasting worldviews and workstyles. Where others see opposites, UrbaNaturals see connections. (This can confuse employers or occasionally, stimulate them.) They like fast paced, tech-driven city environments as well as rehabbed downtown lofts, discussions about self actualization and entrepreneurialism, environmental sustainability and diversity in population base, food, clothing and ways of doing things. Their pattern of living blends Western and Eastern norms. These knowledge workers - many of whom are currently dealing with depression and burdensome college payments - blend and combine every element in their digital lives in eclectic, personal ways.
These people are not stereotypical modernists, obsessed with money and career. They are not traditionalists, focused on recapturing the past. UrbaNaturals - 50 million strong - are a fusion of country and city, past and future. They focus on values, identity and personal expression - whether we like it or not.
This doesn't fit in to the operating style of most Nebraska employers, so they pull back altogether from hiring which burns out the existing employees and eventually slows the circulation of money. As the pattern is repeated in multiple companies, the entire community - and the state - begins to rigidify and stagnate. Entrepreneurs stop launching new companies. No one - except recruiters - talks much about the future. ("Too many pesky problems right in front of us to worry much about the future.") Out of state employers stop calling about sites.
As a result of this deadly pattern, 3000 young professionals leave every year.
The big answer to this suffocating problem is 'innovation.' 81% of company owners think it's important (number two in the priority list), although less than 33% plan on 'doing innovation' in the next five years. This is why Eric Ries' book, The Lean StartUp, is so important: "Start small to lower risk, see what people think, tweak and tweak again."
One challenge is, "How do we innovate?" (Training helps greatly.) Or, "How will customers and workers know we are now more innovative?" (A digital, statewide business magazine, New Momentum, has been launched as a complement to a TV show, WOWBIZ Nebraska.) Both publicize successful innovation and trends across the state. It's been 11 years since anything like this has been done.
Another answer to brain drain is the importance of vital, diverse, colorful, well designed (or redesigned) downtowns where there is an abundance of 'energy.' 40 years ago, there were many jobs and little parking in most downtowns. Today, there are about half the number of jobs and twice the number of parking spaces. So downtown is the vortex no matter how large or small the city. For many reasons, downtown must not become a hollowed out-core. Young knowledge workers - UrbaNaturals - are the catalyst and the celebration.
As the editor of the Utne Reader magazine said way back in 1999: "Americans still worship youth and youth equals "downtown-diversity." Any downtown revitalization project won't be about efficiency, but rather effectiveness - which never emerges without a large dose of creativity. This is the door to the cool factor that young people crave; unfortunately, few city councils know how to evaluate these long term, expensive revitalization projects.
But they have no choice. Without a new wave of youth and a few block of high energy buildings downtown, the future of medium-sized and small cities alike looks rocky.
Nebraska is clearly at an inflection point. Both NEWbraska and UrbaNaturalism will help business owners make a new, sustainable choice, regardless of whether they come from 'urban' or 'natural/rural' parts of the world.
On November 9th, state business leaders and activists will gather to share ideas about attracting and rewarding workers. Let's hope they are open to thinking more precisely about which portion of the workforce they want to attract (UrbaNaturals?) and are willing to think more seriously about entrepreneurial innovation, even if it takes place inside established corporations.
- by Lynn Hinderaker, essayist for New Momentum magazine, Fall, 2021
Contact with questions: 402-208-5519