Guest post by Jimi Coplen
Executive Director, Development Corporation of Haskell, Texas
In rural America, we know the “Brain Drain” is a real issue. We do a great job educating our kids, teaching them good work ethic, and turning them into amazing adults. Then, they leave for college, never to be seen again. Employers are left scrambling to find available workforce, communities have to depend on the same five people to do everything, and it makes it tough on small communities to thrive. But, what are we doing to tell our kids we want them back?
Our local Workforce Solutions organization hosted a WOW (World of Work) event for high school students. This event showcases a variety of careers that can be done throughout the region. It puts real-world business people and occupations in front of high school students. They can ask questions about the various careers, participate in some simulated activities, talk to experts, etc. It’s a great event.
This year, five community economic developers from small towns joined together to host a booth. But, rather than telling students what economic developers do, our booth shed some light on the “Brain Drain”! (Of course students were not familiar with this term, nor did they know they were part of the brain drain.)
We sent the message loud and clear to 3000 students that after college, trade school or whatever they decided to do, we want their brain back in rural Texas someday! We let them know their community is counting on them! We also gave them a list of jobs currently being done in our small communities with estimated salaries. Despite what they may think or are told, there really are good jobs in rural communities.
The highlight of our booth was a large brain built by one of our colleagues. We had students “pick our brain”. They reluctantly stuck their hand through a hole, and on the other side were small, brain-shaped-stressballs that read, “Working Rural is Cool!” We also had a selfie station with a variety of selfie frames promoting, “See You in Rural Texas!”
We took this opportunity to plant a seed and to make sure someone was sending the message to these students that they are the future of their community. It’s okay to go out and see the world, get an education, but someday, we want them back!
The communities represented in the “Brain Drain” booth were Tye, Haskell, Seymour, Gorman, and Snyder, Texas, along with our regional organization the Texas Midwest Community Network.
Special thanks to Jimi Coplen of Haskell, Texas, for sharing this story!