Hale Youth, Vermont Calling

Two recent articles feature the voices of young people expressing their take on what its like to forge a life in the Green Mountains after graduation. Its a discussion as reliable across Vermont's policy landscape as skunk cabbage in spring. Debating whether or not the Green Mountains are faring better today than in the past at retaining young people somehow seems less urgent than whether we're making our best efforts to serve the aspirations of young Vermonters in ways that acknowledge and respond to their reality.

In a recent Middlebury Campus column, several alumni reflected on their experiences building companies in Vermont. The way the Campus puts it, with few high-paying positions in Vermont, young people who may not have thought of becoming entrepreneurs find that Vermont forces them to be creative. “Looking back on it, I’ve opted to create my own job more often than not. A lot of that is due to my personality, but there are also fewer job options,” is how alum Chris Howell ’04, put it; he's the founder of a local food tour company and turned to entrepreneurship as a survival tactic.

A recent graduate of Vermont Law School is less charitable, suggesting that Vermont is a "financially irresponsible" option for many young people. Writing in an opinion piece in VTDigger, Alfonso Villegas points to the high cost of housing, food and energy as barriers to young people building a future in Vermont. Villegas, who holds degrees from Dartmouth and VLS, suggests that when accounting for college loans and lower wage earnings in Vermont, it is too often a financially unsustainable gamble for younger generations. "Why," Villegas asks, "would young working families move to Vermont and have children when they can barely afford to survive themselves?"

Overall the theme is a powerful one: as the State of Vermont seeks to woo out of state workers with marketing plays and incentive packages, it would be well-served to identify and commit to policy innovations that will foster the conditions that enable young talent to thrive in jobs that they love. The root causes of Vermont's labor shortage, these young voices seem to be telling us, are not being addressed by recruitment strategies. Policies that address the root causes of our labor shortage however just might be our strongest recruiting calling card.