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Sacramento's Future Hinges On Young Professionals

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Not long ago I had an opportunity to listen to a group of the region's most well-connected young professionals (YPs, as they like to be called), who discussed their career pathways in our region.  

They talked passionately about wanting to stay in the Sacramento region and establish both their families and their careers. But the disturbing part was they also talked about the reality of ultimately having to leave the region to find the right advancement opportunities. 

"I wish my supervisor would just sit me down and say - 'this is what I want for you,'" one young professional told me privately. 

That comment struck me as especially powerful. A supervisor who acknowledges the intellect and potential of a young professional and is able to use life experience to help draw the best pathway for that person would be a terrific boss and mentor.  

I liked that approach so much that as the supervisor of many young professionals in my workplace, I tried it. And what I learned is that when this conversation is deployed in an already good relationship, it becomes a very powerful motivator.  

It's a great tactic that combines an experienced professional's wisdom about career pathways and regional opportunities, while also demonstrating a personal interest in the young, valuable worker. 

On January 1 of this year, many established leaders in Sacramento agreed to make 2014 the "Year of the Young Professional."  

A lot of progress has taken place since then.

 One rising star is Metro EDGE - a youthful group of Sacramento Metro Chamber members dedicated to engaging, empowering, and developing young professionals.

 The volunteers leading EDGE planned and executed a region-wide workshop in the downtown core of Sacramento in March that drew over 500 participants to the day-long event with the endearing theme - "Love Your City." 

 In another move to help empower and motivate our young professionals, this year the annual Metro Chamber Cap-to-Cap advocacy program, which takes 300 Sacramentans to Washington, D.C., will include 59 of its youngest members.

 This gesture is an investment in our talented young people. The annual Cap-to-Cap trip involves travel costs, and many of the young professionals have been fully sponsored at no cost to themselves by members of professional associations that have worked side by side with them in a variety of worthy community efforts.

 In my own field of higher education, employers across the region have stepped forward to hire the inaugural group of Drexel University Sacramento undergraduate co-op students - more examples of the intelligent, creative young people that we are attempting to grow, nurture, and retain for our region.

 These employers hired Drexel co-op undergraduate students to full-time positions for six months. Being exposed to a working environment, in their field of study, will be a tremendous opportunity that will open doors and likely shine a bright light on their futures.

 These incremental steps of progress make me believe the region is beginning to understand the value of making a unified effort that contributes to the regional prosperity of our young professionals.

 It's no secret that a region's prosperity is critically tied to the development and retention of a pool of talented, educated young people. That's one of the key attributes businesses and companies use to evaluate regions when they make location decisions.

 Not all of us will have a role in building our major new economic development project downtown - the new arena. But many of us can still contribute to the mentorship, support, and thoughtful guidance of our young professionals.

 However, the value of the collective investment we make in growing and retaining our talent pool could actually exceed the value of any other economic development over time, assuming enough of our business leaders make the necessary commitment to change.

 So let's closely examine what we all want for our region: What we clearly don't want is to be just a government town. Our focus needs to continue to shift toward developing opportunities for our youngest and brightest minds to flourish.  

When that transformation takes place, our young talent will become catalysts in helping our region's economy experience new entrepreneurial successes, new businesses, new jobs, and new investments.

 Dr. Sandra Kirschenmann was born and raised in Sacramento and is the Associate Vice Provost, Executive Director of Drexel University Sacramento.