Sarasota may still have a lingering reputation as a town for retirees, but more and more companies are recognizing it as a hotspot of young talent. With respected institutions such as Ringling College, New School, and University of South Florida in the area, plus several highly graded high schools, there’s no shortage of talented and ambitious students looking for their first big break. But, connecting the dots between employer and employee isn’t always easy. The State of Jobs Conference, which took place last week and was and hosted by Sarasota Young Professionals Group, aimed to help make that connection a bit easier.
Our own founder, Anand Pallegar spoke at the conference along with Adam Saah, Technology & Development Manager, and Anna Foster, Digital Account Manager, from Digital Observer Media, a division of the Observer Media Group. The three offered their perspectives on the state of jobs in Sarasota County.
What was your impression of the conference?
Adam: Any opportunity to speak to young talent is time well spent.
Anna: Adam and I both grew up in Sarasota, so to see a conference like this happening here is exciting. Any opportunity to create community, especially with our future workforce, is great.
Anand: This is the second year we’ve been involved in State of Jobs and it’s fantastic to see the evolution of the conference, but also of the students and their perspectives towards seriously evaluating careers here in the region.
Why is Sarasota a great place to live AND work?
Adam: We live in paradise. That said, people come from all over the world to enjoy what Sarasota, and Florida, has to offer. Recently the up-tick in technology companies coming to Sarasota is also giving the technically savvy more opportunities to explore. The relative low cost of living compared to New York, California, et cetera, doesn't hurt either.
Anna: Sarasota really does have it all—beautiful weather, culture, jobs, good schools, restaurants and nightlife. Like Adam said, we live in paradise.
Anand: Most people don’t realize the depth of opportunity that exists here. It’s not till you scratch below the surface that you see the amazing companies, stories and leaders in this community. What makes it all the more compelling is your access to them. When you combine that with the quality of life here, it’s a win-win!
From the conference, did you get a sense of young people’s perception of Sarasota and the Gulf Coast area?
Anna: I spoke about my personal experience and how after college I moved to California because I felt like Sarasota didn’t have any jobs—this was 2009—but the student’s didn’t have a strong reaction to that. I hope that’s because the business community is working to change that perception!
Anand: There’s often a misconception about what Sarasota has to offer high-school and college graduates. Most aren’t thinking about their career option, so they graduate having spent all their time in the mindset of school, and subsequently want to leave. They’re not exposed to the opportunities and companies in our backyard, thus have little concept of what they can do right here in Sarasota. There’s also the allure of a big city, but we’re getting bigger every day….
Do you think companies in our region are doing all they can to actively recruit young people from the area? What could companies do to change the perception that this not a good place for young professionals?
Adam: I think the stereotype that talent comes from larger metropolitan areas still persists. A non-profit organization that local schools and colleges could participate in to aggregate local graduating talent would be a great first step. And to change the perception? Raise salaries. Sarasota companies have historically undervalued their technical talent as it compares to other areas. If it's Internet related technology, then we all work through a wire; New York or Sarasota, the Internet is the same.
Anna: No, I think that companies in our area are still slow to pick up the work culture that makes places like California, New York, and Colorado attractive to young job seekers. Companies can change the perception of Sarasota through their recruitment process and what they make available online. Most people research before they apply, so having assets that tell your story and give a real glimpse into the companies and Sarasota can help attract young talent. Plus, money doesn’t hurt either. Companies should pay for talent, especially in the technology spectrum, because it is necessary now for business and will continue to innovate how business is done.
Anand: When you look at retaining our talent, there’s a tremendous opportunity for employers to make an impact. A key aspect is simply awareness—most students don’t know about the companies in our region and the opportunities they afford in staying here. Getting in front of students, creating internship or apprenticeship programs to engage them early and often, generating awareness about the industries here are all things that we can do to shift perceptions.
Photo credits: (1) Jon Pierce, Sarasota Young Professionals Group; (2) Anand Pallegar