Zac Rigg moved to Miami two and a half years ago. He loves almost everything about this city — the lush green grass, the warm weather, the community he’s built.
“Living in Miami felt like the childhood I never had,” Rigg said. “It made me feel happy.”
But about a month ago, he moved to Los Angeles.
As a former reporter and editor, Rigg came to Miami to jumpstart his career. He was offered a position as a producer at Fusion Media Network, a millennial-focused news network that launched in mid-2013.
“I got a chance and I took it, but I realized that if I wanted more, then my options were limited,” he said. In Miami he felt that he “climbed really quickly and learned a lot,” but in order to grow his career, he “needed to be in New York or L.A..”
“I wasn’t anywhere close to losing my job, but if I did lose my job I would have to move to L.A. — so I figured I might as well get here ahead of time,” he added.
Rigg’s narrative jives with that of droves of young professionals — talented, hard-working post-grads who move to Miami for a short time to gain valuable experience in their industries. After a couple years of exponential growth, it levels off and they head elsewhere.
If they don’t move physically, they at least move mentally. Ernie Hsiung moved to Miami from San Francisco for a relationship four years ago. When he arrived, he struggled to find a job that matched his skill level. Prior to his move, Hsiung had over a decade of tech experience, most recently working at Yahoo’s research and development lab.
“I tried to find local tech jobs in Miami, and I had trouble not just with finding a job, but with being happy in the job because the salaries are low and a lot of tech companies don’t know how to hire for optimal candidates,” Hsiung said.
Hsiung didn’t want to physically relocate, so he now works remotely as a software engineer at Rackspace Inc., a managed cloud computing company based in San Antonio, Tx. He recently helped another Miamian obtain a similar position.
Hitting the ceiling
The anecdotes are supported by the data. A 2011 Brookings Institute analysis of U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Surveys from 2005 through 2010 showed that the Miami metro area was consistently losing its young adult talent to other metro areas. A 2012 census report concluded that the Miami metro area drew one of the smallest percentages of young people when compared to metro areas of similar sizes.
Chief among the ingredients that help attract and keep young talent are opportunities for professional growth and a high quality of life, according to Damian Perez, the national expansion director and one of the Miami-chapter founders for the New Leaders Council, a group that works to connect and train young leaders in cities around the country.
Miami struggles with both, he says.
Professional growth can be supported by a high density of large-scale corporations, opportunities for networking and community building, and job training programs. Quality of life includes factors like affordable housing, income equality, and trust in government, Perez explained.
Historically, Miami’s primary industries have been rooted in hospitality and tourism, trade and logistics, and banking and finance, according to Dr. Jaap Donath, the senior vice president of research and strategic planning at The Beacon Council, a public and private nonprofit agency working to support Miami’s industries.
That leaves young professionals hoping to move up the ladder in industries like the arts, media, and technology with few opportunities to grow.
“There are only a handful of large corporate environments that someone can learn from, so you sort of cap off at a certain point. But if you compare that with our office in Charlotte, N.C., for example, there are more larger multinationals, and more ability to move upward,” according to Ronei Foumia, a recruiter at Ascendo Resources.
“In Miami, there’s about 4 to 5 larger companies, but everything else is mid-tier and subsidiaries of larger organizations.”
‘Closing the circuit’
Places like The Beacon Council and the Talent Development Network are working to fix that. They’ve identified seven industries where there might be potential for growth on a local, national, and international level. They include aviation, banking and finance, creative design, hospitality and tourism, technology, lifestyle and healthcare, and trade logistics.
And it’s working. Over the past three years, with support from local educational institutions, there has been significant growth in these industries – an 8 percent increase in aviation, 11 percent in banking and finance, 8 percent in creative design, 12 percent in hospitality and tourism, 25 percent in information technology, 6 percent in lifestyle and health care, and a 12 percent increase in trade and logistics, according to Donath.
These industries were chosen with the capacity of local universities to train young adults in these industries and then provide them with a pipeline for obtaining the jobs in high-demand areas.
“We’re closing the circuit,” said Saif Ishoof, vice president for engagement at Florida International University. Ishoof helped launch The Talent Development, a partnership between seven of South Florida’s colleges and universities to create internship opportunities in order to retain young talent.
Ishoof said that part of the problem here is that the prospective employees aren’t connecting with the employers, which is likely caused by a lack of well-structured networking opportunities and a mismatch between training programs and the industry’s demand. This prompts young professionals to leave, and leaves companies looking beyond Miami to fill their gaps in employment.
“I see people who are growing businesses who feel like they can’t find the talent they need, and I also see people looking for opportunities who can’t find the jobs they need. It makes me wonder — can that even exist at the same time?,” said Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, CEO of Radical Partners, a social entrepreneurship accelerator.
Miami needs a stronger pipeline between students and employers through intentional networking opportunities. It’s also important to develop the right training programs, so that once employees begin to hit their ceiling, they can break through it by obtaining the right credentials and higher level degrees, Ishoof added.
Building a community
Building a community of professionals is important for not just vertical job movement, but lateral movement as well – moving to other companies to grow rather than moving upward in one company, according to Lipsey. There are a number of groups, like Miami Fellows and the New Leaders Council, that have emerged in Miami over the past few years, working towards connecting young professionals and providing opportunities for mentorship and professional development.
For Trevor Ditzler, who thought Miami would just be a two-year stint as a Teach For America fellow, this community was invaluable to his decision to stay. In his first two years, Ditzler had a rough time. He moved classrooms twice and almost left.
Five years later, he is wholly committed to Miami and has started a successful summer school and afterschool coding class at Lenora B. Smith Elementary School in Brownsville.
“My students consistently outscore the district and state averages every year in math,” he said.
Without a network of mentors and community leaders supporting him and advising him along the way, Ditzler admits he probably would have left Miami much sooner.
“My community has given me the resolve to stay here. In absence of that I wouldn’t have the mental tenacity to advocate and work hard toward the things I’m passionate about.,” he added.
And even though he’s been courted by school districts around the country, he’s not planning on making moves anytime soon.
“I think that Miami is a city where you need to give it a few years before you really start seeing the possibilities and potential […] if you stay you start seeing the gems and the beauty of Miami more and more.”