Courtesy of the Allegheny Conference.

This spring, experts from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development gathered with some of our region’s leading companies to tackle a vexing question: How to retain more of Pittsburgh’s recent college graduates?

According to Linda Topoleski, vice president of workforce programs and operations for the Conference, every year 40,000 students graduate from local schools, and roughly half of them leave town.

“We had to say, ‘while many of you are competing for the same type of talent, we all have to get together and collaborate to make the talent pool bigger for all,” she tells NEXTpittsburgh. “We’re competing against other cities around the country and around the world.”

Their answer? Kickball, for starters.

This week, the Allegheny Conference kicked off the Pittsburgh Passport, a series of events and activities tailor-made for nearly 2,000 interns from 35 states and 25 countries based here this summer.

The initiative, in collaboration with the region’s business community and post-secondary education institutions, is based on the recommendations of the Conference’s 2016 Inflection Point report, which highlighted the region’s looming labor shortage. That shortage is “largely due to baby boomer retirement,” Topoleski explains.

The series started with a big party at Heinz Field attended by 750 interns on Wednesday night featuring talks by Ryan Shazier and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, with 35 Pittsburgh companies represented. The idea is to get students immersed in Pittsburgh so they might be more inclined to stay after graduation.

Local influencer Steely McBeam networks at the Pittsburgh Passport launch party on June 12. Courtesy of the Allegheny Conference.

Festivities continue this Saturday with a kickball match at Cupples Stadium sponsored by Dicks Sporting Goods. Next Tuesday, Duquesne University will host a mindfulness workshop with representatives from Deloitte. For those over 21, Wigle Whiskey will host a tasting seminar on entrepreneurship on July 10.

“We’re trying to combine fun stuff with professional opportunity,” says Topoleski.

Interested interns can check out the full list of events here.

While no one disputes that many of our local college graduates disperse after graduation, some experts also view it as a healthy thing.

As University of Pittsburgh demographer Chris Briem has argued many times, high levels of out-migration among young, educated residents can also be read as evidence of the success and stability of our city’s education economy, which is proving to be the true driver of growth for the region.

While Topoleski agrees with much of Briem’s analysis, she still believes there’s room to improve our numbers.

“There’s no question that we have a world-class university community here, and that’s a driver of many things in terms of economic development and regional vitality,” she says. “No one really expects all of these students to stay here, but we do think we can do a better job of keeping a larger percentage of them.”

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.