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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Battling the Brain Drain: Career fairs aim to employ more students in Gainesville

When the Spring semester of her senior year rolled around, Mallory Thompson began applying to companies in Atlanta and Nashville.

But in May 2014, a few days before walking the stage, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce offered the soon-to-be UF public relations alumna a full-time job.

“When they called me, I was excited to take it,” Thompson said. “Of course, I was a little skeptical at first about staying in Gainesville.”

That skepticism — of staying in what students consider their temporary college town — is what the local business community and UF is pushing to change.

According to data from the 2010 census, 20- to 24-year-olds make up the largest portion of Gainesville’s population — about 27 percent. But that percentage dips as ages increase, with 25- to 34-year-olds making up only 17 percent. This suggests that after graduation, most students leave, resulting in what’s known as a “brain drain.”

When Thompson, 23, accepted the job offer, she became part of a trend the Chamber, UF Career Resource Center and CareerSource North Central Florida hope is growing.

Kim Tesch-Vaught, the executive director of CareerSource NCFL, said Gainesville’s budding industries include health care, financial services, biotechnology, IT and advanced manufacturing.

And they’re hiring.

The business community has come together to host scores of events like the Chamber’s Hobnob fairs, which are alternative career fairs for STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, graduates. There is also a STEAM career fair April 21, which is another job fair for STEM and arts students aiming to stop the brain drain.

One of the most recent events, the Stay in the Swamp career fair, was held in March and hosted by the UF Hough Graduate School of Business.

The fair, which was co-sponsored by the Chamber, UF’s Graduate Business Career Services, UF’s CRC and CareerSource NCFL, was only open to business students for the first and second fair. This year, both undergraduate and graduate students of all majors were invited, which attracted about 300 students compared to last year’s approximate 100 students, according to Natalie Morrison, the assistant director for employer development at the CRC.

CRC Director Heather White said more local companies are participating in these events, and students are responding.

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“Anecdotally, we’re hearing more and more that students are wanting to stay,” said Susan Davenport, the Chamber’s vice president of economic development.

Frank Avery described a line 10 students deep for Parisleaf, a local branding and digital studio that attended. He said the company’s resume pool grew by about 100 applicants.

Parisleaf hired three UF graduates within the past 18 months, said Avery, the company’s director of marketing and communications.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for entry-level people to have a really big impact in a way that’s much different if you tried to leave and go to a bigger city,” Avery said, adding that by joining young, local companies, such as startups, a recent grad will play a bigger role in the company’s growth.

Thompson said another perk is Gainesville’s location, which makes weekend trips to  Tampa, Orlando and Atlanta possible.

“One thing I want to encourage students to do is, if they’re going to go to a big city to get that experience, stay connected to Gainesville,” Tesch-Vaught said.

[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 4/8/2015]

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