The national Occupy movement has focused the nation on the fact that our economy is broken. Today, millions of Americans are clamoring for an alternate vision of the America economy. For recent graduates, a lack of regular and lucrative opportunities in next economy industries creates a dangerous hole in the progressive movement, threatening to convince a generation that neither side of the political spectrum has a growth-oriented economic strategy that can offer them employment.
The banking, financial, and consulting industries, while by no means evil, are places that have proven to be better at dividing the pie than growing it. If we want a pro-growth strategy for the economy, we need to be serious about making sure that America's best minds are going into the industries we believe can drive an economic renaissance.
In a recent article titled "Stop the Wall Street Recruitment," the authors point to astonishing statistics: "In 2010, even after the economic crisis, the financial services industry drew a full 20 percent of Harvard graduates and over 15 percent of Stanford and MIT graduates."
A robust alternate pipeline for talent within industries deemed to be values- and growth-oriented by the progressive movement does not exist. A look at the requirements for associate level positions in industries such as clean tech, social entrepreneurship, or micro finance reveals a stunning fact: they mostly want experience from the industries they are looking to subvert, namely consulting, finance, and banking. High achievers at America's top universities, bastions for progressive thought, are faced with a stark decision upon entering the workforce -- sacrifice your progressive ideals or your pocketbooks.
By no means is this simply about money. The financial industry has built a sophisticated recruitment machine that emphasizes dependability in terms of opportunities and results. Because these industries have created annual recruitment cycles for regularly recurring positions, students can pursue positions from day one of college. These students also know that in exchange for a two-year commitment they will receive training, incredible networking opportunities, and be provided with unparalleled opportunities upon leaving.
Because the skills in those industries are deemed so valuable, for a humanities student who wants to go into clean tech or micro lending, the clearest path is to take a two-year diversion in one of those industries. In essence we are asking our prospective progressive leaders to sleep in the lion's den.
In conjunction with the Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline's first conference in New York yesterday, I will be launching an initiative to begin a solutions-oriented dialogue around this issue, with the goal of locating and building out the resources necessary to strengthen the progressive career pipeline. By defining a clearer path for our best and brightest to enter values-oriented and pro-growth industries, we have the opportunity to define a new generation of progressivism that will help shift our country to being competitive in the economy of the future.
If we hope to provide a compelling alternative to an economy driven by financial trading, shorting, and hedging, we must first show that the pillars of the new economy can provide regular and lucrative opportunities for our best and brightest.
Daniel Golfarb is a board member of the Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline. He is the former program director for Americans for Energy Leadership and currently a fall associate at Greenstart, a cleantech accelerator in San Francisco.