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Talent Development

Preventing The Brain Drain

The other day in a conversation with a recent college graduate, I realized that she was probably going to take her degree and move halfway across the country. In fact, the only reason she’s still in town at all is an unpaid internship she found. She’s hoping she can take the experience she gains from interning and turn it into a local job, hoping she doesn’t have to move back home with her parents while she looks for paid work. But she’s prepared to leave.

The other day in a conversation with a recent college graduate, I realized that she was probably going to take her degree and move halfway across the country. In fact, the only reason she’s still in town at all is an unpaid internship she found. She’s hoping she can take the experience she gains from interning and turn it into a local job, hoping she doesn’t have to move back home with her parents while she looks for paid work. But she’s prepared to leave.

She’s not alone. College graduates all over the country are looking for opportunities. If you want to keep them in your town, in your organization, you need to focus on what you can do to prevent the brain drain.

Offer internships

In the competitive job market, having an internship is an important way to stand out and get experience for your résumé. Your organization or association could benefit from what the young and educated can bring you in knowledge and labor. They’d love to have an opportunity to gain some professional work experience for their résumé.  It’s not all about experience, though. Once they have experience, talented young people need a way to use it to earn a living.

Create employment opportunities

Internships are great, but the truth is, they are more attractive in organizations where there is also hope to move into a paid position. Interns already know your secrets. Rewarding them with pay is a great way to retain what you’ve invested in their training and motivate them to stick around for a while longer. You already know what kind of employee they’ll be because an internship is like a months-long job interview.  If you can’t employ them yourself, be sure you are doing what you can to help them find other opportunities in your area.

Provide good working conditions

Gen Y won’t work just anywhere, and you can’t expect that business as usual is going to appeal to them. You need to know what Gen Y wants and appeal to them. If you can attract them, work on keeping them by creating great working conditions.

Communicate opportunity

A great way to let students know you have work for them is to participate in job fairs. Build a relationship with career counselors at the local universities, let them know you can offer opportunity for their graduates.  Start a student chapter of your association or organization to be even more visible and engaging for students. Start recruiting the best and brightest before they graduate. Don’t wait for them to see a job posting to let them know you’re interested in putting them to work.

The brain drain hurts everyone in a community. You want the best and brightest employees, and that means you need to make sure they aren’t leaving. A lot of different factors go into the phenomenon known as brain drain. Many of which, are out of your hands; but you aren’t helpless. Your organization can help keep local talent local by creating and communicating appealing opportunities for them.

Don’t lament the loss, prevent it.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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