Sunday, August 2, 2009

Youngstown Alumni Solutions

In a tight job market, college alumni networks are a great asset. Universities tend to be geared towards helping recent (or, soon-to-be) graduates. But that's changing:

The notion of helping out older alumni is spreading. In June, Lori Kennedy, whose wonderfully euphemistic title at Lehigh is “director of alumni career solutions,” gave a Web seminar for 40 schools about setting up such programs. In 2002, following the employment downturn after the 9/11 attacks and the dot-com bust, Lehigh realized that its career counselors, trained to help new graduates, couldn’t meet the needs of midcareer professionals. It created an extensive online and personalized career service for all graduates. “Last year we served 2,000 alumni,” Ms. Kennedy said. “This year it was 4,000.” ...

... ON occasion, the alma mater inadvertently offers a sip at the fountain of youth. Chuck Megivern graduated from Lehigh as an electrical engineer with a pocket protector and slide rule in 1974, when rowdier graduates were listening to the Doobie Brothers and Kiss. He spent his entire career at a Fortune 500 technology company, eventually at its plant in Burlington, Vt. Two years ago, Mr. Megivern began worrying about layoffs — just about the time his youngest child was accepted to Lehigh.

On the school’s Web site, he spotted the alumni career services program. Methodically, he worked his way through the online seminars. Over the phone, Ms. Kennedy gave him additional counseling. Last fall, a Burlington start-up,, was seeking a software developer. He opened Ms. Kennedy’s handout. “Page 30,” Mr. Megivern said. “ ‘Interview Skills.’ ”

Then, salary negotiations. “I kept making emergency calls to Lori,” Mr. Megivern said. “She would say, ‘Consider this factor, consider that one.’ ”

He started the new job in March. In a sense, he has come full circle, living something of the free-spirited life envisioned by many of his generation. The company has bean bag chairs in the conference room, a gym and a cafeteria with organic food. He bikes to work.

In June, 35 years after graduating from Lehigh, Mr. Megivern attended his first college reunion there. “I gave Lehigh a little money, too,” he said. “Not enough to name a building after me.”

But, Mr. Megivern noted, “They are getting a much larger amount as well — my daughter’s tuition.”

Institutions of higher education are recognizing the value of a lifelong relationship with their clients (i.e. students). Regions could do the same. Coupling with the local university is one way. But doing so isn't necessary. Labor mobility services for expatriates could pay big dividends in terms of economic development.

Ireland's Emigrant Advice Network is a good, albeit rare, example of the practice. It is a strange way to think about brain drain. Leaving home is a lot like graduating from college. You do so in order to tap greater economic opportunity. However, moving out doesn't necessarily mean moving on.

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