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Chamber CEO's Inquirer op-ed focuses on jobs and higher education

Posted by: Bernie Dagenais on Friday, July 19, 2013 at 12:00:00 am

Aiding students is good business

Posted on Friday, July 19, 2013, 1:08 AM By Bernard Dagenais

A serial entrepreneur I know likes to say that the best ideas keep coming to him again and again until he just has to pursue them. This applies to an idea that the Philadelphia region and the Main Line Chamber of Commerce must pursue: attracting and retaining well-educated talent.

The region's 101 colleges and universities are an outstanding asset that attracts students from throughout the world. While the area benefits from being an exporter of academic degrees, we should also try to retain more of this talent to help drive our region's companies and economy.

Companies decide where to locate their operations and grow based largely on access to the right pool of employees, and education is a key determinant when it comes to income. More educated individuals raise a region's per-capita income, and a stronger economy is the result. Yet, despite our wealth of talent and education institutions, this region lags other major metropolitan areas when it comes to educational attainment.

Conversations about talent are occurring across the country. In May, I spoke at a talent summit in St. Louis, where they are focused on increasing the number of individuals with four-year degrees. A month earlier, an organization called CEOs for Cities was in Philadelphia for a convention tied to the National Talent Dividend, a competition of 56 cities - including Philadelphia - designed to increase degree attainment.

This region already has groups working to raise degree attainment. The Graduate Network helps individuals with some college credits complete their degrees. Campus Philly connects students, both culturally and professionally with internships, during their time here. Our community colleges collaborate with four-year schools to ensure that students attain higher degrees. Drexel University is a leader in experiential programs.

Our region's business leaders are highly focused on attracting and retaining talent. When the Economy League's World Class Greater Philadelphia initiative sought to identify key areas the region should concentrate on, talent and education emerged as top priorities, along with business growth and infrastructure improvements.

As cochair of the League's Education and Talent Team, I heard firsthand about the educational assets we have, the opportunities available, and the challenges we face.

CEOs and CFOs of our region's most innovative and progressive companies tell us they are concerned about talent. And of course, the higher education community is highly motivated to help students find jobs after graduation.

The Main Line Chamber of Commerce is ready to act, and has set a goal of helping link employers and our higher education community.

Working with Campus Philly on a Regional Congress on Talent and Education last month was a first step, and yet another validation of the interest in this work. About 200 business and academic leaders, including campus career professionals, corporate hiring managers, and seven college presidents, discussed ways of increasing and improving collaboration between schools and employers.

One tangible outcome of the Congress is There, employers can connect with potential interns at 21 colleges and universities in the region. One of the most effective ways to retain students, according to Campus Philly surveys, is to provide them with paid internships while they're here.

This is a start, but only one of many ideas that the chamber and its partners are going to pursue. Bernard Dagenais is president and CEO of the Main Line Chamber of Commerce.

E-mail him at



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