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Education, Innovation, Incubation and the Next Generation

Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce takes a Leadership Role in Connecting Employers with Higher Ed Community

In a recent Clark University study, students from area colleges and universities were asked if they were interested in staying in Worcester after graduation. Their answer was “no.” However, when they were asked, “What if you were offered a good paying job from your internship employer?” Without hesitation, the answer was “yes.”

This is good news for employers. The number one issue raised by Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce member employers is the workforce pipeline. Like other college towns, we must work hard to retain our college students after graduation. Studies show that the best practice for talent retention is connecting students to employers through internships. Even better news for the region’s employers, a robust community of 12 area colleges and universities enrolls more than 38,000 students and graduates about 8,000 students annually.

As part of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce’s recruit, retain, incubate strategy, in 2013 $1.2 million was raised through the business and higher education communities as well as foundations, to fund business recruitment efforts for the region and establish a program to connect the business and higher education communities. These efforts are focused on helping to grow our economy, create jobs, and to expand the regional tax base.

HireEd-WEBNow in its second year, the Chamber’s Higher Education-Business Partnership has experienced much success connecting local employers with area students. Several initiatives have focused on working directly with businesses to create valuable internship opportunities, establish connections between recruiters and college career services professionals, and provide opportunities for young entrepreneurs to start a business. Additionally, we are providing softs skills enhancement and professional development opportunities for this Millennial workforce.

In 2014, the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce was asked to partner with Internhub.com, a free, easy-to-use online resource and database, developed by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Federal Reserve Bank, as a talent retention tool to connect students and employers for internship opportunities. Meaningful internship programs are a win-win for employers and students as they provide real world experience and serve as recruitment and workforce supplementation tools for employers. Encouraging local employers to start or grow their internship opportunities and recruit locally for interns and new employees is a daily focus at the Chamber.

A regular concern of employers about the 18 – 25-year old intern or new hire is their lack of so called, “soft skills.” These often intangible skills include critical thinking, professionalism, and communication skills that are a critical component of workplace success. To address this soft skill deficit, the Chamber launched Hire-Ed, a free professional development series for interns. This six-week program exposes students to six local employers with a curriculum designed to develop their soft skills. The sessions, held during the summer, were filled to capacity and garnered much positive feedback. Plans to continue the program for the coming spring and summer are currently underway.

Another important Chamber initiative is StartUp Worcester, a partnership with Running Start, a coworking space and The Venture Forum. The program provides an opportunity for graduating students and alumni from area colleges to take their entrepreneurial ideas from concept to market with the assistance of this incubator program. Retaining talented, rising entrepreneurs in Worcester and the region is important to our economy for many reasons including the addition of jobs, tax revenue, attracting other startup and established companies. StartUp Worcester supports 9 companies from gaming, to green business to real estate with resources to start and grow their business. They work in shared office space and are connected with mentors through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s SCORE program. StartUp Worcester is now recruiting for its second cohort.

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Talent retention studies conducted by The Research Bureau found employment opportunities to be the number one reason students chose to stay in the area. Another important factor is a student’s engagement in the off campus community including its social, cultural, and emotional aspects. The Chamber gathered a group of stakeholders, now called the UniverCity Alliance, to support all of our efforts to market to college students. Among the Alliance’s offerings are free “Welcome to Worcester” presentations and assistance to promote the city’s events and venues to capture their attention and their hearts. As part of the Chamber’s annual career fair, “live local” businesses including 25 restaurants, recreational, and cultural venues engage with students to get them off campus and into the community.

These Chamber efforts help to fill the workforce pipeline and prepare the next generation of leaders for successful careers in every industry. Our goal in all these efforts is to fully leverage the assets of our colleges and universities to grow and strengthen our city and regional economy. In doing so, we create future employees, business owners, homeowners, and leaders for our region.