Fox Cities, an area comprised of 20 communities along the Fox River in east central Wisconsin, is home to roughly 400,000 residents; and a little over half of those residents make up the Fox Cities labor pool. As the region’s technology and manufacturing industries have grown so has the demand for a young, educated workforce.
According to Shannon Full, president & CEO of the Fox Cities Chamber, creating and nourishing a millennial labor pool was key to meeting these demands. In order to recruit young talent to the region, the chamber had to create an environment conducive to the millennial mindset: one where livability comes first and job placement comes second, and the desire to make a difference exceeds all else.
“We redirected our programs toward connectivity and network building by linking millennials to the community, to career opportunities, and to each other,” said Full. “We essentially took on the role of concierge and matchmaker.” Talent Upload, a university familiarization program, and a rebuilt young professionals group, Pulse, have been successful tools to recruit and retain this crucial demographic.
Talent Upload is an all-expense paid event designed to proactively engage with and recruit university talent. It specifically targets students to fill positions in IT, computer science and engineering.
“The goal of Talent Upload is to give students an opportunity to explore life as a young professional in the Fox Cities region and it provides employers with a chance to engage them before they enter this ultra-competitive market,” says Beth Pritzl, director of research and technology for the Fox Cities Regional Partnership. “We want these students, with coveted skills, to not only accept a job here but also to embrace the community—that’s the key to retention.”
Through interviews with the area’s primary employers, the chamber learned that the gap for skilled tech workers was so great that in a few years their top companies may be forced to relocate to find talent.
Using the framework for their site selector familiarization tours, the chamber pitched the idea of Talent Upload to their employers. “It was amazing to see them put their full weight behind the program and agree that a rising tide raises all ships,” said Pritzl. “They knew they needed to be proactive and fortunately, corporate leadership agreed”
“…a rising tide raises all ships” – Beth Pritzl
Talent Upload spans three days, during which students attend a relaxed career fair, onsite company tours, and networking events with area employers. They also participate in a team group scavenger hunt to explore the community.
“Exposing the students to the community is key! The scavenger hunt leads them to nightlife, recreation, entertainment and housing. We feel that we devote a day to work, and we need to balance that by devoting a day to living—that includes all of the innovative projects Pulse is working on,” said Pritzl.
Employers pay to participate, which funds the program’s hard costs of hotel, food and transportation. The cost of participation is tiered, and is based on the level of time and exposure the employer wants with students. So far, the chamber has hosted three Talent Upload events. The first was held in spring 2015, followed by fall 2015 and 2016.
“I like to think that we open a lot of eyes for these students,” said Pritzl. “Before they attend Talent Upload, most have no perception whatsoever of our area. Over a short three days, we show them what life here is like and engage them with employers that are willing to pay top dollar for their talent.”
Outcomes (as of 2015):
145 student participants
26 employer participants
62% job and internship placement
Won 2015 IEDC
“Best in Show” Award
Talent attraction is only half of the equation. After recruiting millennials to call Fox Cities their home, the chamber needed to ensure that they make the choice to stay long term. That’s why the chamber’s young professionals group, Pulse, underwent a robust, 18-month reconstruction.
Pulse has been around for 12 years, and had been conventionally run as a professional development network. According to Adrienne Palm, director of Pulse, that traditional model was no longer adding value to its members. There was a shift in mindset that the cultivation of young talent went hand-in-hand with professional development. Rather, it’s the opportunities provided from a civic perspective that most significantly influences young professionals.
“Enhancing our talent pool will always be Pulse’s primary goal, but we realized we were focusing on the wrong tactic,” says Palm. “Young professionals are moving to cities and staying because of the cultural amenities and assets the community offers.”
The new emphasis on “creating a sense of community” now serves as the chief motivator for Pulse. This allows for the network to have a break-the-mold approach to program design.
“We nixed many of the traditional programs that just weren’t working for our millennial population, such as staid lunch & learns and unimaginative networking receptions,” said Palm. “These were replaced with programs that allow our members to feel like they have a role to play in the community, which helps them dig deeper roots.”
One such event, Bazaar After Dark, is a night market developed on Wisconsin Avenue, a major thoroughfare lined with many minority-owned businesses and unfortunately, also many vacancies. Pulse closed the highway and brought in lights, live music, small businesses, pop-up vendors, nonprofits and food trucks. The event attracted more than 3,800 residents to this often neglected part of town.
Another event hosted by the network was titled ‘Politics and Religion’, two words normally never seen together at a chamber program. The dinner challenged members to speak openly about their personal views and beliefs, which fostered a much deeper understanding and connection among peers.
In conjunction with Pulse, the chamber is now in the exploratory phase of a full-day Fox Cities immersion event for new and existing hires from Talent Upload companies and the community at large.
Download this article: Millennial Matchmaking in the Fox Cities (4)