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Jobs with purpose: how to stop SA's millennial brain drain


To stem the loss of talented young people from the state, South Australia needs to create not just jobs – but the right kind of jobs, writes Suzi Sosa.

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One of the things I found when I visited South Australia as a Don Dunstan Foundation Thinker in Residence, is that there’s a lot of discussion about brain drain of young talented minds out of the State.

To understand what to do about this, it’s important to fully comprehend the problem.

For starters, it shouldn’t be viewed as a problem that young people leave South Australia – in fact, that’s a good thing. It’s a problem if they don’t want to come back or if the State can’t attract new talent.

Deloitte pointed out in their Make It Big Adelaide report that there are now fewer people aged between 15 and 34 years living in South Australia than there were in the mid-1980s.

Millennials were born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. They are now the biggest generation, surpassing the Baby Boomers. While millennials are known for their increased use of, and familiarity with, digital technologies and social media, one thing that makes this generation stand out from others is their strong sense of purpose. Research shows that purpose is a top priority for millennials. They want to work for purpose-driven organisations, shop with purpose-driven companies and live in purpose-driven communities.

The Deloitte Millennial Survey reports on the trends and opinions of millennials from around the world every year. The 2013 survey found that when asked – “What is the purpose of business?” – the top answer was “to improve society,” not to make a profit or to sell goods and services.

So why is this important? Well, if South Australia wants to prevent or reverse the millennial brain drain – and you should – you need to understand all dimensions of this challenge.

While often it’s a lack of jobs that causes young people to leave, that’s not the only reason. It’s also a lack of purposeful jobs where millennials can find meaning in work. Millennials want to work for organisations they admire and see as doing good in the world.

If South Australia wants to attract and retain millennial talent, then it needs to ensure that businesses with a strong sense of purpose are supported to thrive. As I mention in my report provided to the Don Dunstan Foundation at the conclusion of my participation in the Adelaide Thinkers in Residence program, to attract and support purposeful businesses, and thereby millennial talent, South Australia will have to focus on growing the “purpose economy”.

The good news is the purpose economy is the fastest job-creating segment of the South Australian economy. The social assistance, education, health and creative sectors, all generate massive social, environmental and cultural impact, while also making huge economic contributions to the state. Organisations in these sectors are the kinds that millennials want to work for. In addition, other types of businesses, such as social enterprises, cooperative and B Corporations, fuse purpose with economic development.

In addition to supporting purpose-driven organisations, the State must create spaces for purpose-based innovation and creativity, such as incubators where millennials can take risks, try new ideas and solve real-world problems. The development of Lot 14 on the old RAH site offers a great opportunity, but a strong sense of purpose will need to be instilled into this precinct for it to attract a wider group.

The new entrepreneurship visa is also a great initiative and should be expanded to include social entrepreneurs. We need a critical mass of people working in social enterprises to create jobs and help make the world a better place.

The purpose economy cannot flourish without an ongoing supply of purpose-driven organisations, and this requires skilled social entrepreneurs who have the ambition to launch these organisations, whether they are non-profit charities or purpose-driven businesses.

Governments can do more through the use of procurement to support the development of the nascent social enterprise sector in SA. The Productivity Commission inquiry currently underway into government procurement should consider how this can be done – I understand that the Victorian State Government has led the way on this in Australia recently.

Finally, the private sector also needs to step up. They know that retention and attraction of top talent is a constant challenge. To attract more and better-quality talent, businesses in South Australia need to consider how they can strengthen their social and environmental impact. Successful business leaders put purpose before profit and they end up with teams that create enormous value.

The purpose economy is expanding exponentially around the world. My challenge to South Australia for 2019 is to move quickly to secure your position as a global leader in this space. This will pave the way for the State to grow its prosperity, to build on the enviable lifestyle you enjoy, and to stem the millennial brain drain.

Suzi Sosa ‘Thinker’ for Don Dunstan Foundation’s Adelaide Thinkers in Residence Program and co-founder and CEO of Verb, a global social enterprise based in Adelaide’s sister city, Austin, Texas. Sosa’s report can be found here.

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