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Wanted: College grads seek quality jobs

Date Published: 05/01/2009


Wanted: College grads seek quality jobs

Duluth News Tribune | August 7, 2005
By Ruth Liao

It's a classic chicken-or-egg conundrum: Which comes first, the educated work force or the jobs?

"I'm seeing my friends moving away," said Chuck Bahr, a 2001 Lakeview Christian Academy graduate, referring to Duluth. "They're not having any connections here. We all assume we're not going to come back."

Bahr, who's completing his fifth year at North Central University in Minneapolis, says it's hard enough finding a summer job while on college vacation in Duluth, never mind a permanent one. The former National Merit Scholar intends to apply to graduate school or find freelance writing jobs.

He enjoyed growing up in Duluth, but as a college student in his 20s, Bahr wishes the city offered more things to do for someone his age.

"You get the feeling things are deteriorating, that there's not much happening," he said.

The "brain drain" problem has baffled regional states for decades. According to the Fed Gazette, a publication of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Wisconsin and North Dakota face similar situations.

No hard figures track the migration of college graduates in the Duluth area, but 2000 U.S. Census figures show 25- to 34-year-olds make up just 12.1 percent of the population. That compares with 35- to 44-year-olds making up 27.5 percent and those older than 55 making up 23 percent.


In the Duluth area, employment was on the rise in June, with 1,600 jobs created since June 2004, according to Kyle Uphoff, regional analyst and outreach manager at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The unemployment rate was 4.9 percent.

Uphoff said the job market is the best in the past four years. Nonetheless, demand exceeds supply for high-paying positions requiring college-level education.

"It's going to be a very competitive market for grads," he said. "There'll be so many folks who have been unemployed for so long" seeking those positions.

To help younger people maneuver that market, the Duluth Young Professionals group was launched in March with hopes of attracting a younger work force to the Twin Ports. It's part of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.

"The whole concept is not to create an exclusive group," said founder Jennifer Wiczek-Bertsch, but a place "where younger people can get together and plug into a community that exists."

Their e-mails are distributed to about 400 members. The group came up with stickers that read: "I'm young, I live in Duluth, I have a job."

Wiczek-Bertsch is perplexed that people have the perception there are no local jobs. She talks with several business representatives each week, and always hears about new job openings or hirings. Duluth Young Professionals stresses networking techniques to identify those jobs and use the best of one's ability to get them.

"We just want to make sure the young people stay," she said, "and that the choice to stay looks really good to them."

Graduating students should be patient, said Craig Chilcote, chairman of the civic organization Bridge Syndicate. He believes if younger people became involved in community groups, they would be able to find jobs at a better advantage.

For Alicia Hudelson, a 2001 East High School graduate, staying where she grew up would have been an attractive option: she loves rock climbing and hiking on outdoor trails in Duluth. She will graduate from the University of Minnesota law school specializing in immigration law.

"My main problem with Duluth is that it feels a little bit cut off sometimes," she said. She doesn't feel like it's behind the times, but she doesn't think she'd find a job in her field.

Hudelson would be one of the students who are graduating with more skills than are needed for local jobs, but would end up underemployed.


Janet Pribyl, assistant director of UMD career services, said most UMD students are from the Twin Cities and choose to return home. She said if students want to remain in Duluth, they need the right attitude when searching for employment.

"The jobs are here, but students have to work to find them and get them," she said.

Pribyl has been able to steer students in the direction of technology-related industries such as Cirrus, service industries such as retail or hotels, or the health-care industry. At UMD campus job fairs, she's never heard of local employers having problems hiring. Like Wizcek-Bertsch, she believes students think there are simply no jobs out there, but only for specific fields.

Her office, however, does not keep records of where graduates find employment. Associate UMD professor Erik Peterson, northern Minnesota director of Labor Education Service, believes no hard evidence exists about tracking college graduates and their job searches in Duluth.

But he can relate stories of going-away parties for bright students who wanted to stay in the area but simply couldn't. The jobs that may exist in Duluth are too low-paying for any college graduate to consider, he said.

"What, as a city, are we doing in conjunction with the university to give people who have good ideas a chance to grow in Duluth?" the professor of cultural studies asked. Not enough, he believes.

Peterson said young grads help boost the local economy by providing a cultural element that can make a city look attractive to the entire work force.

"The group of students graduating from college -- those are the folks thinking up and dreaming up the Google search engines -- Yahoo, the Microsoft of the future," he said.

Joel Kramer, executive director of Growth and Justice, a Minneapolis economics think tank, believes Duluth could attract a well-educated, talented work force. The city could invest in amenities such as open spaces or cultural attractions, he said. Pulling in additional high-quality professors would also draw in a stronger intellectual pool, especially in the health technology sector. And encouraging start-up business initiatives would create more jobs.

"It's a challenge, because all the cities are doing the same thing," Kramer said.

He said Duluth's advantages lay in its recreational features. With technology handy, industries could easily become mobile, and companies could thrive in small cities. Or the city could cater to advancing technology related to existing industries, such as shipping or mining.

Kramer had one more option in building a stronger work force: grow your own. He said encouraging area people in the area to earn two- or four-year degrees would make the city attractive to companies because of its skilled workers.

"It's a big selling point to businesses," he said. "Your best prospects are the customers you already have."

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