We serve as a voice and a source of action for young people to impact policy at the local, state, and federal levels. Policies that are informed by young West Virginians provide the foundation for a West Virginia that is a true destination for young talent to live, work, and thrive. We amplify the individual voices of young West Virginians on issues important to our generation and we provide a platform for young people to take meaningful action that makes a difference.

Technology and Interconnectivity

Our generation is more connected to technology than any other previous generation. We are considered the first generation of “digital natives.” We depend on the internet for work, education, entertainment, healthcare, and civic participation. High-speed internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Without it, businesses are limited to outdated models of production and distribution, employees are limited to outdated models of work environment, and citizens are limited to outdated models of communication and news consumption. According to research by Future Workplace, flexible hours and generous telework policies are even more important to younger workers than is salary.[3] 

Unfortunately, West Virginia ranks 48th in the nation when it comes to people having access to high-speed broadband Internet service. More than 544,000 West Virginians — or about 30 percent of the state’s population — don’t have broadband service. Only Mississippi and Montana have worse broadband access rates. When you look at rural areas, that number rises to 48%. As long as West Virginia ranks 48th nationally in broadband access, this generation of entrepreneurs and innovators will choose other states.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 50% of today’s jobs require some degree of technology skills, experts say that percentage will increase to 77% in the next decade. In order to prepare the next generation of workers and make workforce attractive to technology employers, West Virginia needs to invest in 21st century skills education.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

While all generations have experienced technological advances, the sheer amount of computational power and access to information that we have had at our fingertips since grade-school is unparalleled. At the same time, the costs of creating, owning, searching, sending and reproducing all kinds of digital content – from books to music to software – have fallen dramatically. This creates opportunities for this generation to be pioneers in production, as well as consumption, of technology.

One study found that more than half of the Millennials surveyed expressed interest in starting a business.[5] But not just any business–our generation wants to work for organizations that support innovation and the majority of us take into account how innovative a company is when deciding if we want to work there. [6] 

We’re an impact generation, drawn to social enterprise and a triple bottom line, eager to solve complex problems with new technology, ideas, and creativity. West Virginia has some complex problems of our own that could benefit from the entrepreneurial minds of this generation. But many leave the state due to a perception that West Virginia is not open to change, to innovation, to new ideas and solutions. [7]  

Education and Workforce Development

According to a WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research study, West Virginia is attracting college age (18-24) students at a higher rate than the national average but the states population between 25 and 34 are migrating out of the state at a higher rate than the national average. These trends suggest that the state is more successful in attracting the college age population to move in than keeping those between 25 and 34 years old from moving out. With 72% of West Virginia University graduates having left the state within five years of graduating, it is clear that we are losing too many educated West Virginian’s to job opportunities in other states.

Businesses consistently cite an educated workforce as a key determinant of business location, growth, and profitability. According to the City Observatory, the single most important factor driving economic success is the educational attainment of the population.  In the 21st century, to raise incomes in an area, you need to have a population with a high level of skills.  Places with poorly educated populations will find it difficult to raise living standards in a world where productivity and pay depend increasingly on knowledge. A highly educated workforce is essential in attracting and creating the businesses and jobs needed to employ the next generation and keep them in West Virginia. Unfortunately, West Virginia’s proportion of degree holders runs almost 10 percentage points behind the rest of the country [8]. 

This generation’s college graduates are entering adulthood with record levels of student debt. Two-thirds of recent bachelor’s degree recipients have outstanding student loans, with an average debt of about $27,000 [9] making degree attainment more and more out of financial reach for many of our state’s population. We cannot create jobs without investing in our workforce, and businesses will not grow or locate here if we do not have the workforce they need.

Equity & Inclusion

Our generation ranked equality as the most important issue given our country’s current challenges [10]. We place high value on the importance of diversity in the work place and cite a lack of diversity as one of the biggest barriers to innovation in the work place. [11] 

The statistics in support of inclusive work environments among young professionals are staggering: an overwhelming majority of Millennials (75%) and a large majority (62%) of Gen Xers believe that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, should be accepted in society and work (Pew Research Center, 2013). For this reason, workplace cultures where diversity and openness thrive will more likely attract top talent, especially young, creative, and entrepreneurial candidates.

Our ability to present a truly diverse and inclusive workplace is critical to our success in attracting, developing, and retaining the best and brightest talent.

Quality of Place

Traditionally, we’ve thought that people choose to move to a place largely based on employment availability and career aspirations. But among today’s young talent, there’s a strong preference for quality of place. When asked to choose between “moving to where job prospects were best” or “choosing where I want to live, and looking for a job there,” college educated young adults chose the latter statement by a two to one margin in surveys conducted by City Observatory in 2005 and 2013. Building great, livable places encourages a concentration of talent that helps economies to thrive.

“We’re losing a generation of highly educated, skilled workers and entrepreneurs that are leaders in the digital economy. They have moved to other states that have invested in high-speed internet infrastructure. The longer West Virginia stalls on broadband, the higher the price we’ll pay - costing us job and top talent.”

Natalie Roper, Generation West Virginia

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