BRAC canvas trip: Student internships can improve talent retention

Business Report

Multiple times during the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Regional Benchmarking Workshop the delegation from the Capitol Region heard Greenville, South Carolina, city leaders and area professionals talk about their efforts to make their city “a place where your kids want to stay.” 

This sentiment can apply to many aspects of a community, from its downtown—which was also discussed at length during the canvas trip—to outdoor amenities, but connecting young people to work might top the list. 

Cliff Holecamp, founder of venture capital firm Cultivation Capital, says a key component in keeping young professionals in a city is having college students working for area businesses while they are in school. 

The group of more than 100 from Baton Rouge sat in on sessions with Greenville leaders this week to discuss topics ranging from fostering the entrepreneurial ecosystem, education and redevelopment. 

Recruiting young professionals and retaining area talent by bolstering the region’s jobs pipeline is a high priority on BRAC’s five-year plan. In the past two years, a coalition of Baton Rouge’s higher education institutions and the chamber have made strides to connect graduates with area jobs.  

But it was an internship, backing up Holecamp’s statements, that kept YoProKnow founder  Kamber Parker, 27, in the Greenville area, she said during one session. She interned with a nonprofit in Greenville before starting her career—first in insurance and later founding her company that connects young professionals to companies looking for talent. 

“I think internships play a really big role.” Parker says. “It gave me those feelings of ownership, it gave me the opportunities and it also gave me those soft skills that definitely apply to what I do know.” 

The effectiveness of internships is also backed by academic studies, Holecamp says. Holecamp was formerly academic director for entrepreneurship at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, where they conducted a study that found working in the community, off campus, was a major factor in whether a student left town after graduation. 

Growing and fostering more internships in Baton Rouge is low-hanging fruit, Deborah Sternberg said during a debriefing meeting at the end of the canvas trip. Sternberg is the founder and chair of Young Entrepreneurs Academy of Baton Rouge and also serves on the advisory board for the Ogden Honors College at LSU. 

“I work with highly motivated students and I think we could actually do a much better job finding and promoting internships,” Sternberg says. “Most of our young people have no idea about businesses—the amazing companies in our region—or what they do. So they are already thinking about Houston, and I hate to see them leave. I think we need to do a much better job from a business perspective of promoting these opportunities.”

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