The Roanoke and New River Valleys have a problem, and everyone knows about it. It is talked about in many different ways, but it always boils down to this: our most educated and energetic residents are often temporary. Despite our low cost of living, our outdoor amenities and our growing downtown scenes, the region’s students are typically transient and are in a hurry to move on to greener pastures.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen professionals and consultants diagnose this problem - and generally, the same conclusion is drawn: it’s a communication issue. The students are not appropriately and consistently reached by the area’s businesses and organizations. Some do internships or take on part time employment, but this is often looked at as a box to check rather than a gateway to employment.
Last year, a group of young professionals banded together to attempt to provide a solution. They created eXperience, a two-day conference marketed to students and local young professionals, which exposed them to the options and opportunities for local employment and success.
In its first year, eXperience attempted to solve a very tricky problem a new way: they brought the executives and decision makers from local successful companies to a room full of millennials, gave them food and drink, and simply requested that they talk to one another. They organized short presentations that exposed hiring processes and local job openings. They encouraged networking by providing space and entertainment. It was a successful first year in that people enjoyed themselves and a new annual event was born.
2016’s eXperience will feel the same, but will have a slightly sharper focus. The group took what worked from the previous year and fine-tuned it, adding more weight to those elements that got the most positive feedback. As a local young professional, this event is important to me. I am not looking for a job, but I am very interested in this region’s attempts at exposing professional opportunities to those ambitious people who are just starting out.
In a broader perspective, it is encouraging to see a group of people coming together to bridge the gap between the current leadership of the region and those who will make up our next generation of leaders. eXperience is not the cure, but it is absolutely a step in the right direction. It creates positive press for the region, it is fun, and it connects two groups of people who would otherwise not have the opportunity. The more events like eXperience we offer, the more likely we are, as a region, to retain smart people.
Originally published in Valley Business Front Magazine