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Aerial drone photo State Capitol Park Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber is uniting local businesses and institutions to create visibility around career opportunities for students and recent grads.

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In Baton Rouge, La., only 36.4 percent of adults aged 25 or over hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, which is on par with the state’s attainment rate of 36.3 percent, according to figures from the Lumina Foundation.

The problem isn’t that young people aren’t going to college in the region; Baton Rouge is home to Louisiana State University, Southern University, Franciscan University, Baton Rouge Community College and River Parishes Community College, among others. The challenge is keeping the students in the area after graduation.

To combat the “brain drain” of local students, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) worked with its local business partners to market internship and job opportunities to college students, connecting employers and students on a singular job platform and providing insights to businesses on attracting young talent.

The initiative, which launched in 2020, has resulted in increased visibility of available jobs and internships for students online, stronger relationships between the workforce and higher education, and meaningful experiences for learners’ career development.

How it works: Leaders at BRAC recognized that, if students have job experience in one city, they’re more likely to stay there after graduation. Therefore, providing an easy on-ramp into work with regional businesses and organizations was key.

Recruiting at colleges can be a challenge for a smaller business that lacks the time and resources to participate in a job fair or create a formal partnership with the institution.

Both LSU and Southern, BRAC’s first institutional partners, were using Handshake’s job platform in 2019 to employ their students on campus and connect them with employers. Therefore, BRAC worked to get its businesses on the platform, making more opportunities visible to the student, explains Maggi Spurlock, director of talent development for the organization.

BRAC conducts outreach regularly, letting employers know about the opportunities to engage with and hire students and recent grads through the initiative. The chamber advertises with commercials, billboards visible from the interstate, TV ads and regular radio segments on local stations.

A business can join Handshake at no cost and make their postings and outreach available to as many institutions as they want, even those beyond the Baton Rouge area.

The impact: During the 2020–21 academic year, LSU had 2,133 registered employers on Handshake from the region, and in the 2022–23 academic year, that grew to 3,891. “We’re seeing good returns from it,” said Jesse Downs, senior director of the career center at LSU. “It’s been particularly helpful for small businesses.”

Previously, small businesses may have been hesitant to engage with LSU because the institution is so large and can seem difficult to navigate, Downs adds. The shared job platform allows for easy access between student and employer with little to no resources.

Most of the local employers coming on board are small to midsize groups, some lacking a formal human resources or recruitment team because one person fulfills many of the business’s roles and responsibilities.

Creating meaningful partnerships: One of the challenges in working with smaller businesses is creating formal internship experiences that provide career development opportunities to the learner.

Some business leaders hold misconceptions that an intern should fetch coffees or make copies, so teaching them about the NACE competencies and that interns should be paid is one goal of BRAC and the career center.

To meet this need, BRAC hosts regular workshops with HR teams, drawing on the guidance of career services staff at institutions, to give recommendations and support for how to engage with college students.

LSU also provides employers with an internship recruitment guide, which highlights what an internship is, federal regulations around unpaid internships, how to recruit interns, how to post on Handshake and how to go beyond the site and build relationships with faculty and student organizations.

Clogging the Brain Drain

Across the nation, colleges and universities are looking to keep their young talent in the area through workforce partnerships.

Timing of recruitment is one key area, because each discipline has a different season when students will be searching for an internship. For example, tech and STEM majors are primarily looking in the fall semester for a summer internship.

Employers must be aware of the best timing for student outreach to help make opportunities equitable for the host and intern.

What’s next: BRAC is working with Baton Rouge Community College and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System to move their institutions on to Handshake and ensure all students are seeing available opportunities.

The community has gotten on board with the initiative, recognizing the national need to stop brain drain, Spurlock says.

LSU sees about 72 percent of its graduates stay in Louisiana, primarily in New Orleans or Baton Rouge, so there’s less of a drain to stop up, Downs says. As an R-1 land-grant institution, LSU wants its grads to disperse as far and wide as possible to achieve their career dreams, but the partnership has helped students gain a competitive edge to land those opportunities after graduation.

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