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For Richmond, the Kids May Not Be All Right, Study Shows

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Greg Wingfield isn't quite ready to age himself out of the work force. But after last week's revelation that millennials don't see the region as a good job market, the president and chief executive of the Greater Richmond Partnership just might quit.

A recent survey of 3,500 college graduates, young professionals, local business leaders and human resource executives for the think tank Richmond's Future found that young people love it here — the food is awesome — but don't feel the city is a good place to find a job.

The study found that 74 percent of local college students think that "RVA is 'a great place to play.'" But sadly, 41 percent of those surveyed say they plan to leave Richmond in the next two years. Why? There just aren't enough good jobs.

This is news to Wingfield. The partnership, the region's premier business booster, has a whole section on its website, grpva.com, touting the region's incredible variety of jobs and employment opportunities.

Richmond is one of the "10 Best Cities for Finding Employment," according to Forbes.com (April); among the "Top 10 Mid-Sized American Cities of the Future" according to Foreign Direct Investment Magazine (April); ranked "3rd Best Large City in the Country for Job Creation" by Gallup (March 2012); and one of the "Top Cities for Business Growth," says The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch.com (April). These are just a few of the recent accolades.

"It's a head scratcher," Wingfield says. "We talked about it here in the office." With 80,000 students enrolled in some kind of college or training school, it's difficult to understand why so many fail to see the opportunities under their noses.

It may be that Richmond's business leaders just aren't reaching out enough, says Rachel Burgess, a vice president at the Southeastern Institute of Research, which conducted the study. With baby boomers dominating the work force and likely to work longer than previous generations, there's a critical gap. The young people need employers to recast their nets and include language the kids understand. "Young professionals want jobs where they can create and think," Burgess says. "I think it's just framing in that way."

Or perhaps there's another problem. Maybe the blue hairs who run Richmond's leading companies don't even know how cool these kids are, and won't give them jobs that allow them to "innovate." Or, maybe, the kids are just too lazy to bother doing a basic Internet search to find all the great jobs Richmond has to offer.

"It's a little bit of bending on both ends of the spectrum," Burgess says of the gap in generations, and their attitudes about work. Yes, it's true: Young people entering the job market grew up in a culture where everyone gets "a trophy for just showing up."

"At the same time, everything they do is a hyper-collaboration," she says. "I think it's a balance."

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