The post-graduation slump hits young adults hard. Between entering the workforce for the first time, making friends outside the convenience of a college campus and learning to strike a work-life balance, it’s an overwhelming time of life.
The Shires Young Professionals stepped up, connecting young Vermonters at a similar stage. The organization hosts socials, networking events and professional development seminars.
“I’ve met so many new friends that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Beth Wallace, the organization’s recently elected chairperson. “Shires Young Professionals has really grown over the past decade from a local ad-hoc group that met once in awhile for drinks to a regional, dynamic organization that focuses on welcoming new and young Vermonters, advocating for issues that impact young professionals and their families, and helping connect YPs not only to a peer group but also to causes and community that they care about.”
In its early stages, when the group was the Bennington Young Professionals, young folks would gather at local pubs to talk about work and connect. Wallace first attended a mixer over a decade ago, with a brief break when her daughter was young. She now works at United Counseling Service as the family and community partnership manager and is involved with the Bennington County Head Start and Early Head Start.
But beyond providing the emergent working class with fun and friends, Shires Young Professionals might serve a critical role to the state’s workforce.
With many older Vermonters deciding to retire rather than return to a pandemic workplace, the state — and nation more broadly — faces a staff shortage across industries. But it’s not all grim.
“We hear a lot about Vermont’s aging population and many folks are surprised by how many young people we really have in the Shires. Over the past two years, with the evolution of more remote work options, young professionals are realizing that they can live anywhere and they’re choosing Southern Vermont. It’s such an exciting time to be in Bennington County.”
The camaraderie the organization fosters — and the visibility it provides for Vermont's existing young workers — is good for retaining those remote workers once a move has been made.
"When you connect with a community, you're more apt to stay there," said Andrea Bacchi, owner of the marketing consulting business Think Dynamic Digital and member of the group's advisory board. "If you move in and you don't feel welcome, and you don't feel part of the network, you're most likely going to leave. We don't want that. We think it's so special that so many people are moving in from lots of different places, and bringing their stories — their personalities, culture, food, technology."
A few local businesses have recognized Shires Young Professionals’ potential as a serious economic player and entered into corporate sponsorship with the organization. According to the organization’s website, some sponsors include United Counseling Service, The Collaborative, Heritage Family Credit Union and MSK Engineers.
“A key strategy in retaining new, young staff is helping them become embedded in their community. That’s exactly what Shires Young Professionals does,” Wallace said. The organization connects young workers with professional and volunteer opportunities, “organizations that embody their values and passions … and advocacy efforts that are relevant to young Vermonters.”
What to expect at an event
The recent lineup has all been virtual. On Tuesday night, Bacchi presented LinkedIn for Young Professionals, an event meant to teach attendees how to best use the platform.
A few months ago, the board had discussed what needs they might be able to meet with a slate of virtual events, and she offered her expertise.
"I specialize in social media and email marketing, for small to medium sized businesses, amongst other digital marketing pieces. And I've noticed a lot of people aren't on LinkedIn as much as they might want to be — whether they're searching for jobs, or they're trying to grow their career or their business."
At 5:30 p.m. on May 2, the group will host its second State House Check-In with Reps. Dane Whitman and Michael Nigro. Register at shiresyp.com/events-socials.
But come summer months, virtual events will give way to physical — something Wallace said she's looking forward to.
"Participants can take advantage of outdoor spaces and spread out,” Wallace said. “A typical social takes place at a local business. The business provides space, snacks and drinks. Young professionals network informally. We also typically offer door prizes. In the past year, we’ve incorporated an 'Shires Young Professionals Plays' theme, including activities like recreation or music. Oftentimes, attendees stay long after the event has officially ended.”
An especially big hit: The organization has overrun the local croquet league, with popular croquet events through the Mount Anthony Country Club.
Some changes are coming
The future is, if only by right of the passage of time, young.
Twenty-one- to 40-year-olds, the group’s demographic, will soon — or already do — hold public office, run businesses and hold majority voting power.
So what’s next for Shire Young Professionals?
The organization has been through several iterations. Bennington Young Professionals and Northshire Young Professionals, with similar aims and interests, merged in 2018 to form one group — the Shires Young Professionals under the Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce.
Most recently, Shires Young Professionals became an official nonprofit organization. It’s a move that will allow it to apply for money otherwise unavailable.
“We’ll be selective in seeking grants that align with our mission and vision, but this is an exciting opportunity to access federal, state and private dollars,” Wallace said.
And whatever that means for the organization, whatever resources it yields, she’s committed to making sure everybody has access to them.
“We want to remove barriers for attendance,” Wallace said. For instance, the group had planned an event — eventually canceled because of COVID-19 — in partnership with the Berkshire Family YMCA, which provided child care so that young professionals with kids could make it.
And Wallace emphasized that the group is open to more than the buttoned-up folk people might think of when they hear the term "young professionals."
“You don’t have to work in a business or even be currently employed,” Wallace said. “Our membership includes business people, nonprofit professionals, students, stay-at-home parents and young professionals that live outside of Vermont and work in our area, or vice versa. We value equity, inclusion and diversity, and feel strongly that everyone benefits from a robust membership, inclusive of a variety of experiences and backgrounds.”