Opinion: San Diego is facing a talent shortage. We need to encourage college graduates to stay.

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Quiogue is the director of talent for Jacobs Talent Initiative Tech San Diego and lives in San Diego.

Every spring, our regional universities graduate thousands of new students. With college degrees from institutions of higher education taught by some of the best and brightest faculty in the world, combined with practical work skills and forward-thinking ideas gained through internships, campus involvement and alumni mentoring, our university talent is sent to competing regions!

Each enrolled student enriches our region both economically and culturally, so why do some leave? Many of them are simply not aware of the breadth and scope of our regional innovation cluster, or are drawn to regions with better-known innovation companies. Our region invests in each of these students through tax support for universities as well as city infrastructure that students use. Wouldn’t it make sense for San Diego to leverage that investment by making more of an effort to keep college talent in our region?

Tech San Diego, a nonprofit that serves the region’s innovation economy, is leading the effort to retain those students.

If we’re serious about solving San Diego’s talent shortage, we need to stop shorting valuable talent and start hiring them – directly integrating them into our San Diego workforce after (or before) graduation. They are intelligent and inquisitive and have excelled in their academic coursework, capstone projects and research labs. They also gained essential skills through student organizations, community service, and part-time jobs or internships in the industry. Juniors and seniors possess an intellectual depth greater than upperclassmen, while embracing a vulnerability that allows new and creative ideas to emerge. They can immediately and effectively be highly productive in the workplace.

A significant number of local companies recognize this and use Tech San Diego’s resources to identify and hire university talent for their internships and careers. However, our competitors from other innovation clusters across the country are also coming to town and aggressively recruiting our student talent with attractive salary and benefits packages. We need to solve this problem by encouraging new local talent to make personal connections with our regional companies, introducing them to managers and practitioners who can serve as mentors and advisors to support their professional growth, empowering them to directly understand the company culture, while creating more a strong bridge between academia and industry through internships, apprenticeships, networking and job-ready programs to keep them in San Diego. Reshaping our existing resources and relationships as gateways to regional opportunities and pathways to promising careers in San Diego sends a message that we want our new university talent to be here.

So what should we do? First, we need to increase the number of paid internships and other learning opportunities through experience in our regional companies for early talent training. Preparing new talent for professional maturity and workplace skills provides them with the exposure, experience and confidence to effectively transition into the workforce. In turn, companies have a direct opportunity to assess students’ skills and qualifications for full-time employment consideration.

We also need to work better with our local universities to connect talent that is underrepresented in innovation. For those companies seeking to create inclusive spaces, university talent provides a strong source of diverse talent. We know the value a diverse team brings to an organization with contributions from different perspectives, cultural narratives and life experiences. Collaboration with our diverse campus resource centers – and student organizations and student success programs that serve and empower historically marginalized communities – can nurture talent in inclusive and accessible ways.

Basically, our regional companies have openings and our local universities have amazing talent. Let’s connect the two organizations and solve the talent gap together. From higher education to salaried, let’s keep them in San Diego.

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