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Brain Drain is a symptom, not the problem

Since the economic crisis hit, you don't hear many people bring up the issue of Iowa's Brain Drain anymore. We falsely believe since there will probably be a lull in the expected generational workforce transfer that the brain drain issue has gone away. Wrong!  Actually, this economic crisis probably only makes it worse.

The truth is, Iowa’s workforce is peaking in size. According to both federal- and state-level data, in 10 yearsBraindrain Iowa’s workforce will lose about 60,000 people every five years. That would roughly be the equivalent of losing a Principal, Allied or Rockwell Collins every year.  Look no further than the 2010 census, where Iowa is scheduled to lose yet again another congressional seat, as to why this should concern us all.

Funny thing is Iowa tops the Midwest in attracting students for college. Our universities and small liberal arts colleges are well respected and highly coveted, but once students graduate, there's a great stampede for the exits. Iowa is a “net exporter” of its young professional workforce, losing about 4 percent of its young professionals since the beginning of this decade, ranking our loss of educated people in the nation the forth worst.

Another way of looking at it: Iowa is losing about 10 percent of its economy. This outflow of educated people leads to slower economic growth, productivity and innovation and increases in the poverty rate.

Brain Drain is not the problem. It's a symptom of the lack of jobs for people with advanced degrees. Simply put, either we stop sending kids to college or we must provide more college required jobs.

Last year, the Generation Iowa Commission surveyed 1000 YP Iowans about their job preference priorities. There highest priority: a high paying job in their field of study.

Other lower ranked priorities were demographic-specific amenities and attractions, options for career advancement, mentoring opportunities, cost of living and student debt repayment.

Why do wage and field of study rank so high? Let's look at what an Iowa workforce looks like to a college graduate:

62 percent of Iowa’s high school graduates go to college
33 percent of Young Professional Iowans will get a bachelor’s degree
24 percent of workforce aged Iowans already have a bachelor’s degree
12.2 percent of available jobs require a bachelor's degree or higher

Even after cost of living had been adjusted, Iowa still ranks second-to-last in the Midwest in the key wage metric. Iowa has relatively fewer advanced degree career opportunities, without concentrated industry clustering and new economy capital-efficient industries.

We need young, educated Iowans to secure our future. Young Professionals want to stay, but can’t find an appropriate job. We need to close Iowa’s wage and salary gap, not through state-mandated laws, but through job creation programs, expanding Iowa’s career pathways and connecting wages with age-appropriate amenities. This will put Iowa on a path to solve its Brain Drain issue.


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Thanks for this article. You are right on. I moved (back) to Iowa after some time in New Jersey (not NYC). I had to sacrifice over $50k of compensation per year to move back here (Cedar Rapids). My story is not uncommon. Unfortunately, many people cannot afford to take a pay cut like I was able to do. It's tough.

...useless mindless drivel drivel - times of snivel

Generation Iowa Commission = more bureaucratic gobbledygook...how a bout action and less commission/reports???

Trying to find jobs is always difficult, no matter what the economy and unemployment. However, getting a good paying job with excellent benefits in a career of their choice can be much easier than making the job search.

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