Brainpower is in Demand

Brainpower is in Demand

Many folks consider education to be an Indiana export.

You’ll often see this notion described in headlines as the state’s “brain drain,” wherein college graduates or other trained-and-talented individuals have a tendency of leaving the state for employment prospects or community amenities found elsewhere. But, despite being a well-known trend, it’s a difficult thing to quantify. The movements of human capital are individualistic and change frequently.

One thing’s for sure though, many organizations and institutions throughout the state are working quite hard to make Indiana a more attractive place to talented individuals. Lately, efforts have been ramping up too, reflecting a rise in demand for talent. We’ve gathered a look at the latest updates. But first, let’s check out the available data.


First, The Numbers

It’s tricky to pin down exactly how many graduates leave the state. One of the more commonly cited reports on this topic comes from data published by Ohio-based TEConomy Partners on behalf of BioCrossroads, an Indiana-based business development group for the life science industry. The report was published in 2016 and found the “level of retention for key science, engineering, and information technology graduates is quite low, even among in-state residents.”

Specific findings for in-demand fields found that, among all graduates:

  • 33% of in-state biological science grads (and 6% of out-of-state grads) work in Indiana.
  • 38% of in-state engineering grads (and 6% of out-of-state grads) work in Indiana.
  • 49% of in-state computer and information sciences grads (and 5% of out-of-state grads) work in Indiana.
  • 60% of in-state healthcare grads (and 10% of out-of-state grads) work in Indiana.

A little more recent data from Purdue University in 2017 found that:

  • 50% of Purdue bachelors-level graduates in STEM fields that were from Indiana found employment after graduation inside the state.

Lastly, a 2014 Indiana University Kelley School of Business study found that rates of graduates leaving the state tends to increase with time since graduation. Specifically:

  • One year after graduation, 66% of graduates from public institutions remained and were working in the state.
  • After three years, the remain-rate falls to 59%.
  • After five years, 55% of graduates were working in the state.

While there’s variety among each of those sources, the overall picture they form has those at the forefront of workforce development working hard to bring people into Indiana. Many of them have big projects underway too.


From Drain to Gain

During his time as our former governor and now during his time as president of Purdue, Mitch Daniels has been a major figure in the movement to reverse the brain drain trend. Just a few weeks ago, he announced the university’s new Brain Gain Initiative had achieved positive results in an early pilot program that could have positive outcomes for the state.

The Purdue Brain Gain Initiative seeks to invite Purdue alumni (whom the university lovingly described as “some of the best talent from around the country”) to move back to Indiana.

“A few years ago, Indiana reached the top tier in every ranking of good business climates but the one category where we lag is in having sufficient human capital,” Daniels said.

A strong initial response to a pilot outreach program brought more than 220 individuals interested in finding professional opportunities in Indiana. Serious conversations now are under way with a number of expatriate Boilermakers, including scientists, a legal counsel, a marketing executive, and a research physician, for next steps in presenting high-priority candidates to partner companies.

The Initiative is partnering with TMAP, an Indiana startup founded by Purdue alumnus and former trustee Bill Oesterle, to connect interested job candidates with appropriate business opportunities.

Last week, Daniels sent a letter to 278 companies in Indiana inviting them to join the program. The initiative is ready to scale up. Next, Daniels will invite other universities statewide to participate and will recruit more companies to the effort.

“Fifteen years ago, many of us adopted as our central goal, the reversal of the state’s brain drain,” Daniels said. “Since that time, Indiana’s population has begun outgrowing our neighbors, including a net in-migration of college graduates, but it’s not nearly enough. This initiative, if we do it right, will be the next great step in strengthening our Indiana community and economy.”


Social Media and Data Mining

It turns out, social media is good for other things besides cat videos. It’s also able to help with targeted talent attraction endeavors.

The Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana partnered with Michigan-based market research and consulting firm Whittaker Associates, national recruiting firm BloomBright (formerly Pareto People), and New York-based corporate artificial intelligence platform to develop a new way to directly market to new talent by using social media. Together, the group’s capabilities in analyzing data enabled the use of layoff data and social media marketing to identify and attract skilled workers from outside the region.

“If we’ve learned anything from the project it’s that we need to rethink the entire hiring experience for candidates,” said Greg Wathen, president and CEO of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana. “More than 50% of millennials use their smart phones to apply for a job.”

After completing an early pilot version of the new method, the partners noted that social media definitely has certain strengths in the workforce development arena. Specifically, Dean Whittaker, founder and president of Whittaker Associates, said, “Social media marketing is stunningly effective when targeting individuals with previous connection to the Evansville area. A large audience can be reached inexpensively with correct targeting, testing, image and message selection.”

“LinkedIn Recruiter seems to be a better avenue for recruiting candidates that require a higher level of education in more “in-office” jobs, and Facebook ads seem to be a better avenue for recruiting skilled and general workers,” he added.


A Workshop for Workforce Development

Businesses themselves have a part to play in drawing people to Indiana too, and fortunately it’ll soon be a little easier for them to do so. If there were such a thing as a one-stop-shop for resources to help companies attract candidates, it might look a little bit like what the Indiana Chamber of Commerce recently created.

The chamber’s newly-formed Institute for Workforce Excellence will be “dedicated to helping businesses attract, develop, and retain the talent they need.” It was created in response to trends that were identified in the chamber’s annual employer survey. Over 700 respondents participated.

For the first time in the employer survey’s history, more than half of the respondents left jobs unfilled in the past year due to underqualified applicants. The 51% total is the fifth consecutive increase, starting with 39% in 2014.

The Institute has a number of offerings currently in place. An exclusive partnership with Ivy Tech Community College on the Achieve Your Degree initiative provides a 5% tuition rebate. The Indiana INTERNnet statewide internship matching program can lead to new hires, while Indiana Workforce Recovery guides employers on how they can help workers with opioid or other drug misuse.

The institute will also have resources available for various employee education and training opportunities, public policy development and advocacy, workplace and community well-being, and more.



We’d be remiss in compiling a list of talent-attraction efforts without at least mentioning the Regional Cities initiative and the big ways it’s been helping. This initiative is all about enhancing quality of place, providing the types of amenities that people want in their communities.

To date, about 70% of the state’s population lives in a region that is implementing a Regional Cities plan. Projects are happening all over the place, upgrading some of our best assets and laying in place entire new ones. Some are focused on connectivity like the improvements and expansions happening along our trail networks. Others are establishing new shopping districts and recreation centers. Others are bringing major infrastructure improvements to airports, roadways, campuses, health centers, older buildings in need of rehab, vacant facilities, and so much more. The initiative has received national attention for the way it is bolstering and renewing demand for Indiana residency, which in turn brings in new talent.


Bring on the Brainpower

These examples that we’ve gathered are really only the beginning of all the different talent-drawing activity that’s happening currently. Such demand for skilled employees is driving a major push for new workers across almost every industry, particularly so for the more advanced ones. Also, our reputation as a pro-business state is also perpetuating the demand as new companies choose to locate or expand here. So, it’s safe to say the effort to draw talented residents to Indiana is likely going to be continuing for some time. The smarter we get, the stronger we’ll be.

Category Cover Story, Features