From June to October 2019, in partnership with the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation and WEtech Alliance, Workforce WindsorEssex distributed the Windsor-Essex High School Student Regional Retention Survey. We conducted this survey in tandem with the separate Workforce Attraction and Retention Survey, from which we generated insights and recommendations about attracting and retaining more skilled workers in Windsor-Essex.

The purpose of this survey was to better understand how high school students, in contrast to adult skilled-workers and students, make decisions to either stay in the Windsor-Essex region or leave the region after completing high school. Our goal was to generate insights for local organizations and businesses in developing messages or even new initiatives that can positively encourage youth to stay in Windsor-Essex, or to seriously consider returning to the region after post-secondary education.

Key themes we explored include where these students are planning to migrate to (if they are considering migrating), what students are looking for in a job, and community improvements that can impact youth retention.

A total of 277 respondents, in grades 9-12, participated in the survey. The survey respondents came from high schools in the Greater Essex County District School Board, Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, and Conseil Scolaire Catholique Providence. Schools in Amherstburg, Kingsville, and Leamington are also represented in the results. A total of 173 (62.45%) of respondents were from Windsor, with the remaining in Kingsville, Amherstburg, Tecumseh, Leamington, Lakeshore, Essex, LaSalle, Harrow, Maidstone, and Wheatley.

Of those 277 respondents, 124 (44.77%) said they intend to stay in Windsor-Essex after high school, 58 (20.94%) said they did not intend to stay in Windsor-Essex after high school, and 95 (34.3%) were unsure.

Of those respondents who said they do not intend to stay in Windsor-Essex, 128 (58.72%) said they plan to go elsewhere in Ontario, 36 (16.51%) said they plan to go elsewhere in Canada (not Ontario), 21 (9.63%) said they plan to go to the U.S., and 11 (5.05%) said they plan to go overseas.

Retaining High School Graduates in Windsor-Essex

Having long-term job security (93.9%), a job with good benefits (91.6%), and a job where they can make a lot of money (91.6%) were identified as the most important aspects of work for the survey respondents.

Students also identified that having a job where they can contribute positively to society (82.44%) and having a job with flexibility (81.3%) were important to extremely important.

Other aspects, such as having a job where they can move up quickly (67.18%) and working for a well-known employer (56.49%) did not factor in as heavily.

Companies could consider looking into promoting their permanent positions, benefits, and competitive pay in order to retain local youth talent, as long-term job security, a good benefits package, and higher pay are major factors for this group. This finding, however, may be based on where these students are in their lives right now.

Students Looking for Professional Development Opportunities and Mentors

Students identified training for workplace or professional skills (86.78%) meeting leaders in their field (85.49%), and the reputation of their college or university program (79.77%) as important to extremely important.

Being able to meet people who think similarly (75.1%), meeting people with similar career goals (73.93%), and having access to leadership opportunities (71.59%) were also identified as important to extremely important.

We can see from this data that students are looking for both professional development opportunities and training as well as mentors in their fields.

Interestingly, starting or growing their own business(es) was identified by 45.91% as important to extremely important. The survey respondents seem to largely want to work for a company more so than for themselves at this point in their lives.

Identifying Favourite and Least Favourite Things in Windsor-Essex

Of the 234 respondents that identified their top favourite things about Windsor-Essex, the top selections were the food (23 responses), the mall (9 respondents), movie theaters (3 respondents). Three respondents identified the downtown as a favourite thing. Safety, proximity to the U.S., and the waterfront were also identified as favourite aspects of Windsor-Essex, which is in line with preliminary findings from the Workforce Attraction and Retention Survey.

Of the 230 respondents that identified their least favourite things about Windsor-Essex, the top selections were a lack of things to do (89 respondents), the people (43 respondents), and downtown (12 respondents). Transportation, cost of gas, having to rely on cars, quality of roads, and air quality/pollution were also identified as least favourite aspects of Windsor-Essex.

While the downtown factored in heavily into the least favourite things about Windsor-Essex in the findings of the Workforce Attraction and Retention Survey (in which 921 adults participated), the same results were not present in the survey targeted toward high school students. A significant number of high school survey respondents (38.7%) noted that there was a lack of things to do in Windsor-Essex. To address retention of these students, more activities, amenities, and community meeting spaces, as well as advertising the existing opportunities, would be good additions to Windsor-Essex. Based on these results, improving the independent mobility of students by expanding and promoting active transportation and public transit would also positively impact the perception youth have of the region.