Birmingham Capitalizes on Rivalry Football Game to Attract Recent College Grads

November 13, 2013

Birmingham Business Alliance Talent Recruitment CampaignThe Birmingham Business Alliance started brainstorming on talent attraction and recruitment efforts in 2012, seeking ways to get in tune with Millennials, who often choose jobs based as much on quality of place as they do on the position itself.

As part of their first talent attraction effort, they came up with the creative idea of capitalizing on a major football rivalry – the Magic City Classic – that brings hundreds of students to Birmingham for the showdown match each year from Alabama State University in Montgomery, and Alabama A&M University in Huntsville. The football game provides an incredible opportunity to showcase Birmingham’s jobs, companies and amenities to college students getting ready to graduate. To do this, the BBA partnered with the career centers of these institutions to select 15 of the best and brightest candidates from each university to interview with Birmingham-based financial institutions and go on a bus tour of the city to get a taste for what life is really like there.

The hope is to expand similar efforts to other major events taking place in Birmingham, by involving every college and university in the state – and possibly even beyond state lines – in order to attract talented young professionals to the state’s largest city.

We spoke with Waymond Jackson, Jr., director of workforce development at the Birmingham Business Alliance, and Lauren Cooper, director of communications at the Birmingham Business Alliance, to learn more about the new program’s official launch in October, as well as big ideas for the future.

Campaign Start Date: Planning began in 2012, and Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, the day before the big Magic City Classic game, marked the official launch of their signature event for Birmingham’s “Talent Recruitment Project.”

Campaign Cost/Budget: Less than $5,000 for October’s event, partnering with corporate sponsors and investors.

DCI: What drove the creation of the Birmingham Business Alliance “Talent Recruitment Project”?

Jackson: Workforce development along with talent attraction and retention became a stronger focus for us this year, and we also launched a job and internship board. We met with stakeholders, investors and four-year institutions, and after bringing them together and listening to their needs, one of the top priorities for them was being able to identify talent to fill jobs with people from Alabama and outside of the state. We talked with recruiters at some larger firms and they mentioned challenges and issues they’ve had filling jobs, so we decided we needed to take an active approach to continue building relationships on college campuses with career services directors to identify students who fit with opportunities available in Birmingham.

DCI: You focused the first event solely on finance. Why?

Jackson: We knew we needed to target a specific industry to pilot the program and make sure we got it right the first time. We had identified seven sector areas for the type of jobs that drive our economy, and finance was one of them. We also have several banks here that were telling us they were struggling to find the workforce they need. Specifically, they were looking to identify individuals for their talent and management training programs, and an entry-level internship program that seeds into a more seasoned position in the bank. We kept the numbers of candidates small initially and focused on quality over quantity, just to make sure we got everything right.

DCI: What’s the reaction been to the program so far?

Jackson: We’ve been getting emails from investors who are asking when it’s going to be their turn. The colleges are overwhelmingly supportive. Our education partners email us, saying this is great, how can we participate? We’re working with directors of career departments at universities, and they understand the importance of building a partnership to get students placed in jobs. We’ve already heard from one career service director and learned that after the first event, students have been contacted by recruiters/hiring managers and are getting further plugged into the pipeline.

DCI: What was the response from students who did the interviews?

Jackson: We’ve received emails from students, too, mentioning that they thought this was the single most beneficial thing they’ve done since they’ve been in college in terms of being prepared to find a job when they graduate.

DCI: Talk about the strategic things you’ve been doing, including using this big football game as a chance to recruit students from elsewhere and give them a taste of Birmingham.

Jackson: Both schools that play in the Magic City Classic are about 90-120 miles away from Birmingham, so this game was a chance to show students who might not have ever been to our city all of the opportunity that exists here. We’ve integrated our job board link onto various college campus websites across the state, so students can see what’s available in Birmingham. Also, we’re dealing with Millennials so we know they choose jobs based on quality of place, and that’s the angle we used to incorporate the bus tour. We have a lot of great attractions and incredible redevelopment going on in Birmingham with things like Railroad Park and the Avondale neighborhood, so we wanted to make sure we incorporated that.

The next thing we’re doing is building a database of students who have been to Birmingham, and next year we’re going to put out a specific electronic talent attraction letter aimed at those students.

DCI: What was the students’ response to the bus tour?

Jackson: They really liked it. They hadn’t seen some of the areas, and we chose someone to lead the tour that knows the community really well. Students got to see things they wouldn’t normally think of when they think of Birmingham. A lot of students weren’t from our area – they were from other states and other parts of the country. People who move here and transfer here, they never knew Birmingham had so many quality of life amenities.

DCI: What other events do you have planned to showcase Birmingham?

Jackson: The next areas we’re looking at are technology and engineering, and a year from now we have the plan of bringing in 300 students from all across the state to have them go through and experience the same thing we did with the Magic City Classic, but with various industries at the same time. We want to capitalize on large events we have here, but also do something that stands alone, for students coming here for the weekend to be able to experience interviews, networking, a reception, a concert sponsored by someone else, a tour – something that we actually will be able to structure the weekend around, that showcases Birmingham a destination for jobs and a good place to work and play.

DCI: How did you come up with these unique and innovative ideas?

Jackson: Some of it is personal experience. When you talk about recruiting in sports, athletes get recruited, and when they do, teams go to great lengths to sell their city and team to attract this particular person. Communities need to start thinking more along the lines of: How do we recruit the best “players” in the in-demand industries and in fields our companies need? It’s about taking that model and stretching it out to involve more students and more people.

Sarah Reinecke

Written by Sarah Reinecke

Sarah Reinecke is a Senior Account Executive at DCI. Since joining the staff in 2013, she’s worked to tell the economic development stories of places that span from Salinas, Calif., to Wake County, N.C., and Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to the state of Indiana.

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