Talent Drain (Outmigration of Young Professionals in Omaha)

Talent Drain 2Purpose Statement

Omaha is facing a loss of talented employees and a mis-match of education versus job needs that is affecting our employment market.   Omaha is not attracting or retaining employees for a variety of reasons.  This issue is causing both short and long-term concerns from key organizations such as the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, the Heartland 2050 project, and the Greater Omaha Young Professionals.  Local organizations recognize that a meeting needs to be dedicated to this topic, key players identified, and action items designated.


We will convene a meeting, in partnership with local organizations, to identify key players and discuss possible actions and solutions to help retain skilled workers.

The Meetings (October 23 and 30, 2014)Talent Drain 1

Our group struggled a bit with choosing a topic for this pilot project.  Eventually, through conversation with our library director and local organizations, we landed on the talent drain. After discussion with the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) and Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, we learned there had never been a community discussion dedicated to the talent drain topic.  This helped cement our choice.  Although we weren’t deeply invested in the topic, we could see the importance and value of this issue to Omaha.  We were fortunate to receive input throughout our project from MAPA, the Greater Omaha Young Professionals, and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce to help inform us about what has already been done in Omaha around this topic; what organizations and individuals should be invited to the conversation; and how their organizations might best benefit from the conversation.

David Drozd from the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) Center for Public Affairs Research was also instrumental early in this conversation.  He gave a presentation at UNO’s Data Users Conference which focused on the outmigration of young professionals in Nebraska which was the source of a lot of our initial data.  We were then able to contact him to get more data for our meeting participants before each meeting.  He was a wonderful resource for this project.

It was suggested that Pilot Project 3 should be more than the earlier projects and might warrant two meetings.  We decided early on that to adequately have enough time to examine a new topic with a new group of people, we would need more than two hours.  We opted for two meetings.  We thought we could combine everything and create a sort of “continuous flow” from one meeting to the next.

All the pre-meeting work paid off for our first meeting which brought together 13 individuals from corporate, education, and non-profit organizations.  Although many of the individuals had not met before the meeting, they turned out to be an incredibly high functioning group.  They were ready and willing to tackle the discussion of outmigration.  Although we had fewer attendees than had RSVP’d (13 of 18 positive RSVP’s), we were happy with the makeup of the group and their level of participation.

After introductions and a quick activity (Graphic Jam) from Marvel to get the creative juices flowing, the group jumped right into brainstorming.  Megan facilitated a discussion of potential causes for the outmigration problem.  After writing down reasons on note cards and sharing them with the group, they sorted and categorized the causes.  Their ability to work together really hit home when they completed these tasks in less than 5 minutes.  Impressive work, especially for a new group!  After a well deserved break the group came back to discuss the items as root causes vs. symptomatic causes.  They quickly broke down the 50+ individual causes into 10 root causes.  That list was then narrowed down to the 5 most important root causes:

  1. Overly conservative political environment
  2. Lack of diversity in leadership
  3. Job opportunity elsewhere
  4. Discrimination/segregation
  5. Better business environment

The larger group then broke up into 4 smaller groups to write brief root cause definition statements which they shared with the group.  We felt this was a good time to end the first meeting.   Laurie then summarized the meeting and talked about the plan for the second meeting.

While we had hoped for 15-20 attendees at the second meeting (thanks to a higher positive RSVP count), we ended up with only 7 participants.  It was disappointing that more individuals from the first meeting did not join us.  However we were again impressed with the attendees’ commitment despite the small group size.  The unexpected size also made it necessary to change the meeting plan a bit which Laurie did well on the fly.

After re-introductions and a review of the previous meeting, Laurie led the group in the Three Wishes activity.  She then jumped into what was supposed to be a series of small group discussions focused around creative solutions.  This portion of the meeting was transformed into a longer, large group discussion due to the group’s size.  While this took more time than originally planned, it was fun as facilitators to hear the conversation around each topic instead of getting lost in the small group work noise.  A single large group let the facilitators throw out questions to help the group when they got bogged down.  After a break the group reconvened to discuss possible relationships between solutions and draw connections between them.  They narrowed their focus to one point of push which could create a lot of change – find an Omaha leader, political or otherwise, who resonates with young professionals.  We then discussed how to make that happen and what difference it would make.  Finally, the group gathered for a storytelling circle to imagine what Omaha would be like in 10-15 years if we found a leader who resonates with young professionals.

The meetings went very well overall.  This project was a real team effort – we were great partners and everyone pitched in.  This was the first time that Marvel and Laurie had worked in a group of three. This definitely decreased the work load which was fantastic.  However we noticed more of a disconnect about our project.  Because we weren’t involved in every aspect of the work I’m not sure we felt as invested in it.  It seemed slightly more difficult to transition from library branch work to FIT (Facilitator-in-Training) project work.  Very little time was spent in the branch doing FIT project work.  The vast majority of the work time was meeting with fellow team members which was a plus and a minus.  It was awesome to feel the strength and support of two other people.  However it also felt like we didn’t have as much control over the project’s direction.  This led to feeling disconnected because not as many individual ideas and thoughts were invested into the work.  There was much more compromising with a group of three as opposed to a partnership feeling with a group of two.

Things That Worked

We are so glad we got advice from Sam McBane Mulford and Cheryl Gould on our meeting design.  It proved to be a big help, especially when trying to plan two meetings.  They were able to help when we were struggling to bridge the gap between the two meetings.  We felt we did a good job adapting to changes and going with the flow when things didn’t go as planned.  The activities we chose were relevant to the topic and the participants.   The group dynamics were really successful.  They worked together like they had known each other for years.

What Didn’t Work So Well

The two-meeting structure was difficult.  Although we thought that people would have a hard time committing to two meetings, we didn’t realize we would lose so many attendees.  Having such a dramatic fall in numbers was hard for both us and the second meeting attendees to carry on a “continuous” meeting.  The participants expressed their disappointment in the lack of commitment from the first meeting attendees during the Plus/Delta evaluation in the second meeting.

After reflection, we are glad that we took on the two-meeting structure as an experiment.  We learned a lot from it. There are several possibilities why attendance was not optimal.

  • We opted not to personally call attendees but just sent an email invitation. We had 18-20 respond that they would attend each meeting so we didn’t think it was necessary to call. This took out the more personal touch which would have obligated people to attend if they had RSVP’d yes.
  • We sent the invitation out very early (about 5 weeks before the meeting date) knowing that many people need a lot of advance notice. It might have worked better to send a save the date, an invitation 3 weeks out, and a reminder 3 days before the meeting.
  • Since talent drain as a topic may be more of a personal interest for many attendees, their work priorities would have trumped our day meeting. We could have considered an evening meeting.  However we could have had the opposite issue with those whose work related to the topic choosing not to come because it would have been on personal time.
  • The topic was an interest to all those invited. However it was not so pressing that it would draw some attendees over other priorities which might explain some of the fallout. Four hours is a lot of time to dedicate to something that is not a top priority.

We also found working at the CEC (Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center) to be more challenging than working at one of our libraries.  Although we had our FIT Team materials available at the CEC, we still had to haul them from the OPL (Omaha Public Library) office to the meeting room.  We also found it difficult to communicate with the CEC’s Room Coordinator as she was not particularly responsive to our emails.  Traffic and parking was more difficult for our participants than expected.  There was a lack of control with a third party space that we have not experienced while using an OPL space.

Posted by Laurie Hajek-Jones, Megan Klein-Hewett, Marvel Maring (Facilitators-in-Training)

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