Building and Retaining the Young Work Force

Business as usual has gone out of favor.

By Joe Sweeney


Each year Ingram’s selects a score of 20 in Their Twenties and features them in our October edition. And each year it feels like the overall quality of candidates may be stronger than the year preceding. 

This year is no different. We had a very solid lineup of candidates and we hope you’ll agree this year’s honorees are quite impressive.

The challenge we’ve encountered in prior years is that, between the time we host the reception to the time we publish the issue, an honoree might not only have moved to another company but possibly changed careers entirely—it has happened. 

Employers know that 20-somethings are oftentimes jumpers. This is nothing new. But you’re not likely to find jumpers in this year’s class. What you will find is a cohort of very focused and accomplished young executives and entrepreneurs who are punching well above their weight, considering they’re just getting started in their careers.

In this issue on Page 20 is an interesting column by Staffing Kansas City’s Roses Ammon on Gen-Z and their employment preferences. We may be in for a shaky and unstable ride as Gen Z populates employment ranks.

When we think about attracting and retaining talent like this as a community, there’s a tech aspect to the discussion. Federal, state and regional officials continue to focus on and invest to bring high speed broadband internet throughout rural communities. 

It’s no surprise that young adults leave their home communities and move to the larger cities. Rural internet helps, but opportunity and lifestyle are key factors that drive young adults to the cities. So what are larger cities in Missouri and Kansas doing to attract workers and stimulate investment? As important, what is being done to retain those who are here and mitigate the migration to Chicago, Dallas, Austin and other markets?   

Building on Our Strengths

As part of the 20 in Their Twenties program, we try each year to assemble the new class for both introductions to one another, and to sound them out on topics of concern. What we’ve learned in doing this over the past decade is that what’s top of mind for the civic leadership here doesn’t always mesh with what young people want to see in their cities.

Still, there’s plenty to be encouraged about if your job depends on being able to attract talent to operations in this region.

Consider what 2023 honoree Jenna TeKolste of Commerce Bank had to say about this region’s strengths: “All eyes are on Kansas City. Sports teams and events, successful companies and the kind-hearted Kansas City folk have put the Heartland on the map as a noteworthy and respectable place to develop as a young adult. I think of it like a life-resume. Kansas City is the geographical equivalent of a Fortune 500 company. Because of the diverse industries and stability of our region, future employers can have faith that the product coming out of Kansas City is high-quality.”

Kendal Schmidt, of Spring Venture group, had this to say:  “Kansas City is desirable not only for career growth but for starting a family. The lower living costs, top-ranked school districts, continuous growth, and vibrant community make it an amazing place for families to thrive. The city’s growth has created excitement for our community like the NFL Draft, Super Bowl parades, KC Current soccer stadium, performances by headlining artists, and new creative dining experiences.”

Complementing those quality-of-life considerations are the business conditions here as noted by Richard Chaves of Parking Company of America: “I think the biggest strength for start-ups is the number of opportunities that the region offers,” he said. “The amount of commercial real estate and residential deals that are still being made in Kansas City, despite the nationwide market conditions, and the continued population growth are proof that Kansas City is a strong market.”

Do those observations mean that we need to stop reaching for improvements? Not by a long shot.

Lakyn Boltz, of Sporting Kansas City, offered this: “I would love for Kansas City to have a Downtown area park where you will always find outdoor activities, fitness activities, events, etc., happening. There are more and more people our age diving into a healthier and even “sober” lifestyle, and I don’t believe there are enough things around the city for people our age to engage in without feeling pressured to drink. I also believe there is a shortage of networking events for young professionals that’s accessible for anyone to attend.”

Discerning employers will parse her observations closely, for within her concerns are opportunities to modify benefits packages, engagement opportunities and processes that can change your company cultures to draw in young, high-achievers. 

This is where the business community can make a difference, and not wait for the public sector to act.

About the author


Joe Sweeney

Editor-In-Chief & Publisher


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