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Survey on Attracting and Retaining Young Adults

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 17, 2020

 Survey of Bedford County graduates

 Bedford County’s class of 2020 agreed on two things – Bedford County is a good place to live and their K-12 education prepared them for their future.

 The insights into the youth’s attitudes and experiences – who all graduated this spring – came from an online survey or more than 300 Spring 2020 graduates, sponsored by Unified Family Services Systems, Bedford County’s Communities that Care Prevention Board, as part of the focus of a countywide committee that is working to encourage more young people to stay or move into the county.

 “The results give us an excellent snapshot of our graduates’ thoughts about the county during a pivotal time in their lives – helping us understand their future plans and telling us what will be important to them as they make decisions on whether to stay or return to the county after further education,” said County Commissioners Chairman Josh Lang.

 “The entire Southern Alleghenies region is seeing a steady reduction in young adults – those residents who often drive the economy, and Bedford County is no exception,” Lang said. “Our county’s median age is rising every year and the under 35 population is shrinking precipitously. We’re working to reverse that trend.” Donald Schwartz, Bedford County Planning Commission executive director, noted that the issue is so critical to the region’s future that it was a focus of the six-county comprehensive plan, Alleghenies Ahead, adopted by the counties’ commissioners in 2018.

 The survey responses came from more than half of the Class of 2020, with strong representation from all the county’s school districts and public charter school. More females responded than males (61 to 39 percent) and more students from the Bedford Area School District responded than from any other single district. Each school encouraged graduates to respond and sent links to the online survey to all county graduating seniors.

 Ninety-percent of the graduates surveyed agreed with the statement “My K-12 education prepared me for my future education/career path.” For a majority of the students surveyed, that means they will attend a four-year college: 51 percent checked that answer in the survey. Another 19 percent said they planned to attend a two-year college or go to a technical/trade school. Eighteen percent said they planned to move directly into work while just under five percent planned a military career.

 By far the most popular career choices focused on health care – 28 percent said they intended to pursue a career in a health care-related field. Of those, 60 percent said they planned to live in Bedford County when they are 25.

 “This data shows us we have a major opportunity to recruit and retain much needed health care professionals,” said committee member William Kurtycz, chief operating officer of the Hyndman Area Health Center, and Lang noted that based on the survey results, the committee has planned a roundtable discussion with representatives from the region’s health care industry to explore recruiting strategies.

 Those strategies may be shaped by answers surveyed graduates gave to questions about their experiences.

 Ninety percent said that “overall, their opinion of Bedford County is positive.” Eighty-seven percent said they thought “Bedford County is a great place to raise a family” and 92 percent agreed that “Bedford County is a safe place to live.”

 But not all of the answers were positive.

 Only 46 percent of the entire group surveyed said there are “good professional opportunities for me in Bedford County.”

 “We believe there’s something of a disconnect between perception and reality for some youth,” said committee member, Bette Slayton, president of the Bedford County Development Association. “We’re seeing professional opportunities for career growth in many job sectors in the county. We need to market those opportunities to county students to encourage them to stay or return and build their lives in the county once they complete their post-secondary education and training.”

 In addition, 55 percent of the graduates surveyed said there’s not enough to do after school/work and on the weekends in the county and 60 percent knocked the county as not having “enough cultural diversity and acceptance of differences.”

 “These answers help give the committee a roadmap for students’ thinking and what they deem important – telling us the county’s strengths and challenges as perceived by county youth,” said Lyn Skillington, UFSS executive director. “Without data, you don’t have that roadmap and can’t make smart decisions.”

 What else did graduates tell the committee in the survey?

  • 79 percent said being able to find an apartment/townhouse/house that they like is either extremely or very important to them.
  • 74 percent said they thought they’d be able to find that future home.
  • 77 percent said access to high-speed Internet service is extremely or very important to them. A nearly identical percentage said the same thing about widespread availability of cellular service.
  • 50 percent said that having things to do after school/work will be extremely or very important to their decision to live in Bedford County.
  • A bare majority – 51 percent – said that having a greater variety of shopping and restaurants is extremely or very important to them.

Asked to list activities and/or access to activities they think will be important to them after they graduate, 77 percent listed “having a place to hang out with friends;” 70 percent said eating out; 52 percent said indoor recreation including basketball, working out, yoga, volleyball etc. was important; 51 percent pointed to outdoor recreation other than hunting and fishing; 50 percent included hunting and/or fishing as among the important activities for their future. Seventy percent said the county needs a recreation center and they would use it if it were built.

 More than 63 percent said ties to family and friends would be extremely or very important to their decision to live in the county. The county’s open countryside and small-town atmosphere was also a positive – 60 percent said those attributes were extremely or very important to their decision to live in the county.

 On the other hand, a majority of graduates surveyed said that being able to experience different places to live and meeting new people was extremely or very important to them. “Wanting to experience new places and people is natural for many young people and can be important as they move toward starting to look toward a career and raising a family,” Lang said. “Our goal is to make sure when they’re thinking about that future, that they strongly consider coming home.”

 How can county leaders reach those youth? In addition to programs in place through many educational and business organizations, the survey revealed most county youth are prolific users of social media. Less than 4 percent said they didn’t use or subscribe to any social media. The most popular for the graduates surveyed was Snapchat – with 88 percent saying they used it regularly. Instagram was the next most popular at 75 percent; Facebook was at 69 percent; TikTok was used by 49 percent; Twitter by 26 percent.

 Skillington said UFSS and county schools plan to repeat the survey every spring. “This year’s survey was unexpectedly challenging because of the Covid 19 pandemic and school shutdown. We’re hoping we can reach almost all students next spring and in future years. Having this data over a number of years will allow us to track changes over time and really key in on what our youth have to say about their views of – and their experiences growing up in Bedford County.”

 Click here for the survey results.