Sure, the taxes may be high, but by and large the Garden State is an opportunity-filled place to live and work — especially for NJ-based companies that require a wide range of skill sets across their workforce.
But when we’re the only state losing 20,000+ students annually to out-of-state colleges, what’s the impact on future hiring? This so-called “brain drain” — high school students heading across state lines for their higher education — has been going on for decades. Combine that with the mass exodus of more than 500,000 millennials, and you don’t have to be an economist to predict the looming impact on the state’s labor pool — talent shortages, skilled positions going unfilled and costly retention issues as employees realize who’s in the driver’s seat.
This phenomenon is also expensive from a tax standpoint. New Jersey spends roughly $19,000 per student on K-12 education, landing it at the top of the list for per-pupil spending. That’s a steep investment in a future workforce that’s not guaranteed to stick around.
Why are so many students choosing to attend college elsewhere?
One reason is proximity, according to Joyce Strawser, Ph.D., dean of the Stillman School of Business at Seton Hall University. She says, “It’s so easy for a NJ high school graduate to enroll in a great university located within a two- to two-and-a-half-hour drive. That student may likely feel that he or she has the best of both worlds — the exciting opportunity to live and learn in another state, while maintaining the safety net of being a short drive or train ride from home.”
On the positive side, Strawser feels that the issue speaks to the quality of graduates the state produces. “Our high school students are academically competitive — attractive candidates who are heavily recruited by nearby colleges and universities.”
Shifting the tide to in-state higher education
In-state colleges are the first line of defense in attempting to reverse the talent exodus. And many, including Seton Hall, are getting creative in raising their profiles among high school students, moving beyond the typical “Open House” and hosting high-interest programs that bring these students to campus.For example, Strawser’s Stillman School hosts a half-day visit for Bridgewater-Raritan High School students twice a year — and has seen enrollments from that school district increase significantly as a result. Stillman also presents an annual “Strictly Business” program, a half-day immersive introduction to programs, faculty and students, during the New Jersey Education Association Convention. “Because many of our high schools do not hold classes during the NJEA event,” she says, “it’s a convenient time for NJ students to visit our campus.”
Future-proofing your NJ workforce
If you’re planning on remaining an NJ-based company, now’s the time to think proactively about the future of your workforce. Though you can’t control where students choose to attend college, you can take steps like these:
- Benchmarking —Examining both industry-specific and general market data can help you ensure your compensation and benefit packages are competitive or better.
- Succession planning — Identify mission-critical roles across your organization and the skills necessary to succeed in them, then map out (or recruit, if you don’t find any) potential candidates to develop.
- Organizational soul searching — What would it take to become known as an employer of choice? Whether that’s reinforcing your commitment to social responsibility, improving organizational culture or raising your profile by engaging a strategic PR firm, these tactics don’t yield results overnight. Start now so you’re positioned for success.
With so much home-grown talent and potential, it’s a tough loss to see other states — and their business communities — reap the benefits of NJ’s educational system. Our state is a difficult enough place to do business without the added stress of a workforce lacking the skills we need to remain competitive.