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Ideas to keep our uni graduates in South Australia


South Australian businesses need to take urgent action to stop the loss of local university graduates to other states, writes Adam Griffiths.

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It’s never good news to hear unemployment rates have risen again in South Australia. We don’t want to be known only as ‘a great state to retire in’ – we need a diverse population mix, with thriving industries and new work opportunities for young people that will drive the economy into the future.

The state election might have distracted us for a while, but now it’s clear we need to turn campaign rhetoric from all sides of politics on ‘jobs and growth’ into tangible action. And fast.

That’s the hard part: it’s going to take creative thinking and new approaches to solving some of the tough problems we face in terms of job creation, especially when it comes to employment for our brightest university graduates who are giving up on their home state in the hundreds and shipping out to Sydney or Melbourne.

National analysis released by job website Adzuna in September 2017 found although the number of graduate jobs has increased, the number of students finishing degrees stills outstrips graduate job ads by 20 to one. Worse still, South Australia was listed as the hardest place to land a graduate job in Australia, with an average of 46 applicants for every graduate position advertised.

We must do something. Exporting our home-grown brainpower to other states just doesn’t make good economic sense. Keeping young people here will power growth in the longer term – without them, we simply can’t reach our full potential.

Earlier this year, InDaily reported the City of Adelaide will struggle to meet its population targets. In fact, they’re thinking of offering free, short-term ‘come and try’ experiences. It’s hard to believe. Compared to Australia’s other large cities, we offer more economical housing options, less congestion and easier transport routes coupled with a great lifestyle. But, of course, none of that is any good if you’re unemployed.

As business owners we can do more than just shake our heads at this problem – we can be part of the solution. Unlike bigger cities, we don’t have enough large-scale national businesses to offer annual graduate recruitment programs here, so we need to do what we can locally.

We have to develop more of a can-do attitude that doesn’t rely on others to fix the problem. This is a job for all of us.

Let’s start a campaign to ‘give an SA grad a go’. Look around your own workplace to see what opportunities can be created. Experience is everything, but getting it is tough – just a few days a week could mean the difference between a local young person getting a start in their career and staying here to build SA, or leaving for a lifetime interstate.

Let’s look at offering short-term contracts to help finish a project, or offer a summer internship program if that’s appropriate, or create a part-time job for a year to help someone in the office who is under pressure.

If we’re not able to act right now, then get active and talk to local industry groups to see what they can do as a collective to open up more opportunities for those who will graduate later this year.

Certainly, the government should help business owners with this task. There’s a lot Steven Marshall’s new government can do: broadening the Job Accelerator Grant, coming up with new support programs and developing policies that will attract new businesses to South Australia.

The government could also take the front foot in working with industry and tertiary institutions to build more defined pathways for graduates to ‘ramp up’ to full-time employment after graduation, with more paid short-term ‘bridging’ positions to provide the valuable on-the-job experience demanded by today’s recruiters.

Make no mistake: this is an important issue that needs addressing as a matter of urgency. We need our future engineers, scientists, accountants, business advisors and MBA graduates to stay here. Not only to help power our own enterprises, but to show the world we have the kind of available workforce to attract inward investment from new industries like defence, technology, science, medtech and advanced manufacturing.

We should look at some of the American cities like Seattle to see how an entrepreneurial spirit, the presence of a highly educated workforce and low taxes can combine to help sustain a diverse range of industries. It’s not San Francisco or New York, yet it boasts some of that country’s most successful business stories including Boeing, Starbucks, Microsoft and Amazon, just to name a few.

I’m not saying Adelaide has to grow to those heights, but we have to develop more of a can-do attitude that doesn’t rely on others to fix the problem. This is a job for all of us.

I’ve taken the pledge to help find space to give some SA graduates a go in our office when and where I can. If you think you can offer similar opportunities, then do it. This kind of grassroots action is the quickest way we can solve the problem of losing our best and brightest stars.

Adam Griffiths is a director at dmca, a South Australian business advisory firm.

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