A few weeks back I wrote about young professionals in other cities writing and asking about opportunities that might allow them to return to their hometown – Oklahoma City. I asked the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber to respond. Chamber president Roy Williams graciously agreed:
A few years ago, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber realized an alarming trend was taking place: our best and brightest graduates were flocking to career opportunities outside of our state. There are 17 colleges and universities in the Greater Oklahoma City region, and thousands of students graduate each year – thousands of potential entrepreneurs, company executives and city advocates. We were losing our talent.
At the Chamber we have a product to sell, and that product is the greater Oklahoma City area. We were not doing a good enough job selling the area to our own graduates.
What we found through our research was that graduates didn’t know where to turn for their job search. Finding a job is daunting enough, and it’s made more so when there is a lack of centralized information. Even more importantly, no one had informed them of the great opportunities that exist here and all the reasons they should stay. And once they left, it was easier to stay away than to try to get plugged back into the community if they wanted to return.
So in 2006, the Chamber launched the “Greater Grads” program. Greater Grads is based on this simple truth: college students are more likely to stay here if they know about and are connected with the great opportunities here. Our goal is to keep the graduates we have, and attract back the ones we have lost. We do this through education and facilitating connections between graduates and potential employers.
Greater Grads has three main programs: internships, an annual Career Fair exclusive to Oklahoma businesses, and www.greatergrads.com, a web site that provides employment resources:
- Internship program: Research shows that students with internship experience are more likely to stay in the area after graduation because of the network they build. So we work with local employers to help them establish internship programs and connect them with potential interns. As a part of the internship program, we offer a summer luncheon series. The luncheon series teaches students about different benefits of life in Oklahoma City, while hearing from top business leaders around the city and networking with their peers.
- Career Fair: The Career Fair is held once a year in April. More than 100 employers set up booths at the event, and some of them conduct interviews in private rooms during the fair. This is the opportunity for college graduates to find out who is hiring, and to make valuable business connections.
- Web site: The Greater Grads web site, www.greatergrads.com, is a resource that connects students with job postings, for both internships and full-time positions. It also tells graduates exactly why they should stay.
So is the program working? Yes it is! Over the past four years, Greater Grads has reached thousands of college students. Our inaugural year 1,200 students and 119 Oklahoma companies attended the Career Fair, and two-hundred students participated in our luncheon series.
Most recently in 2009, we had 276 students from 51 universities participate in our summer luncheon series. Before the program, 65 percent said they were somewhat or very likely to live in Oklahoma after graduation. After the program, 85 percent said they were somewhat or very likely to stay. Greater Grads is changing their minds.
So why do all of this? This is about a young generation of highly educated workers bringing indispensable skills to the table, especially in terms of creativity, versatility and technological dexterity. Many recent graduates have a strong, broad-based knowledge of the business sector that will significantly enhance the future leadership of our community. We can’t afford to lose them.
If you are a college student, we don’t want to lose you to another state. There are endless reasons to stay here in the greater Oklahoma City area after graduation, or to come back if you have already left. For one thing, we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. We have three of the top 100 companies to work for in the entire country with Devon, Chesapeake and American Fidelity Assurance Co. We have an incredibly low cost of living and we were named the No. 1 Best Place to Start a Small Business by Fortune. And as far as entertainment, we have an NBA team, countless entertainment options in Bricktown, river sports…the list goes on!
Once you truly understand the benefits of living here, we believe that you will become as passionate about the greater Oklahoma City area as we are. We have heard the same thing time and time again from companies who relocate their employees here- at first it’s difficult to get them to move to Oklahoma, but once they arrive, they refuse to leave.
I hope you will become involved in the Chamber’s Greater Grads program and learn about all the great opportunities awaiting you here in your own backyard. I would also encourage each of you to check out our Greater Grads video to learn more.