Often lost in the discussion about Amazon’s search for a second headquarters is the war for talent likely to occur when the company begins hiring 50,000 employees for its new home. Many of those jobs will be filled by newly minted college graduates or highly mobile workers with college degrees willing and able to move for new jobs.
“Not only will the region need a sizable existing labor pool, it will also need a steady flow of new blood,” said Scott Andes, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Two studies in just the past few weeks show that hiring that much talent in today’s job market might not be as easy as Amazon and local officials perhaps believe, and certainly not in every city Amazon is considering.
One study from Gallup and Strada Education Network found that only one-third of college students feel they have the skills and knowledge to find a job or succeed in the workplace. The study was based on a survey of more than 32,000 students from 43 randomly selected four-year colleges.
One of the most notable findings in the survey was that as students got closer to graduation, they became less confident about landing a job. The biggest confidence booster for students, according to the survey, was if students talked to a faculty member or academic adviser about their careers. Previous research has found, however, that only about half of college seniors report discussing life after graduation with their professors.
“What’s surprising about these results is that it’s students themselves saying they are not prepared for the job market while they are still in college,” said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup’s higher education division.
The findings mirror what employers have been telling colleges for years about their graduates but that higher-education leaders have largely ignored. A previous survey by Gallup, for instance, found that while 96 percent of college and university provosts said students were prepared for the job market, only 11 percent of business leaders agreed.
No wonder employers complain of a growing skills gap in the job market. The U.S. Labor Department says there are 6 million unfilled jobs because workers don’t have the skills employers need, the widest the gap has been since the federal government started keeping track last decade.
So wherever Amazon decides to settle for its second headquarters that gap is likely to grow, unless workers move from elsewhere for the job opportunities Amazon presents. (Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos is also owner of The Washington Post.) The problem is that the United States as a whole is settling down, with families unwilling to move even for better jobs. Fewer Americans are changing residences than at any other time in the past 60 years. If Amazon were to look at where people are migrating for work when they actually do move, the company would probably settle on finalists in just two regions: the South and West.
That’s because a second study released this past week from LinkedIn shows that the cities gaining the most workers over the last year were Denver, Seattle, Austin, Las Vegas and Charlotte, while places in the Northeast and Midwest, such as Pittsburgh, Hartford, Conn., and Providence, R.I., lost the most workers.
The cites gaining the most workers track closely with the places where new college graduates move after graduation. Every generation of college graduates has its hot city. Denver is the new place to be (its population of the young and educated is up 47 percent since 2000). Indeed, recent college graduates are often migrating west. According to a LinkedIn analysis of its members’ online profiles, after earning their bachelor’s degree from universities on the East Coast, nearly three times as many people moved to take jobs in San Francisco than West Coast graduates moved to New York.
Some cities are natural talent magnets for new college graduates. The LinkedIn analysis found that new graduates were willing to move the farthest for jobs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Phoenix.
Andes, of Brookings, pointed out that one element of Amazon’s search that has received much less attention than its preference to be near amenities or mass transit is its desire to be near an urban university. Compared to their suburban and rural peers, downtown universities produce 123 percent more patents and 71 percent more startups from their research, Andes has found. “The ability to translate academic science into commercial applications should be essential to Amazon,” Andes said. “Few companies rely as heavily on technological advances as Amazon, and being close to the secret sauce will be critical to Amazon’s success.”
Several of the 20 finalists for Amazon’s headquarters have research universities downtown, but not all have the ready supply of talent already in place or ready to relocate to fill all the jobs the company will offer. If anything, the race for Amazon shows just how important it is to already be a magnet for job-ready college graduates because everything else tends to follow them — startups, new amenities, and maybe even winning one of the biggest competitions for a new corporate headquarters in decades.