How to tackle today’s #1 issue in economic development

by Marian Kansas, Project Coordinator

Unemployment in 2018 is at its lowest in over a decade, with rates sinking as low as 3.8% in May 2018. As the unemployment rate continues to decline, the implications on economic development and the site selection process skyrocket.  In fact, 96% of our 2017 ED Index respondents said that the importance of having a skilled workforce in the site selection process increased compared to last year, which means that ED professionals almost unanimously agree that having a talented workforce is essential to being competitive.

Early on, the most common solution for supplementing a lacking talent pool was a targeted marketing campaign to poach specific high-demand skillsets from one community to another. But as unemployment rates have continued to decline, the race for supplying a talent pool has become not a sprint, not a marathon, but a quadrathlon.

The solution to your community’s talent needs requires a multi-pronged approach with short, medium, and long-term strategies focused on talent development, retention, re-engagement, and recruitment. While we cannot begin to address all your talent needs in one blog post, we can provide a glimpse into how to tackle some of these strategies, along with a few of our favorite best practices.

Short term – Focus on retaining and engaging local talent

An important first step is doing everything you can not to lose the talent you already have. Doing so requires engaging your local talent base and raising awareness for the opportunities that exist within your community. The inability to connect local talent to local opportunities through internships, apprenticeships, mentoring programs, jobs, and volunteer opportunities doesn’t just mean losing out on potential employees, but could also mean losing engaged citizens, future business owners, or community leaders. It’s vital that communities retain talent not just for employment at local businesses, but for the overall health of the community.

Best Practice: The Game Changers Youth Retention Action Plan in Halifax, Nova Scotia was created in 2015 to connect educated millennials in the community to jobs, internships, and apprenticeships after realizing that Halifax was losing approximately 1,300 twenty-somethings per year. The Action Plan helped businesses find local, talented workers and rewarded them with positive publicity for their participation in the program, and helped millennials connect to professional opportunities through social media and networking. Since implementing the Game Changers Youth Retention Action Plan, thousands of Halifax newcomers have found work and the number of young residents leaving each year has been reduced from 1,300 to less than 250.

Mid-term – Connect underutilized labor pools to education and training opportunities

The current talent shortage is making employers look at new labor pools, like those that have been incarcerated, have a disability, have an incomplete education, or have been disconnected from the workforce for a long period of time. These individuals generally aren’t career ready right now but could be with a few months or years of additional training and assistance. Helping this potential labor force find a fulfilling career (or apprenticeship, internship, or volunteer opportunity) shouldn’t just be a back-up plan but should be an integral component of your community’s talent strategy.

Best Practice: Earn Up is an initiative in Jacksonville, FL that seeks to connect an older workforce with educational or career opportunities in the region. Earn Up is a regional collaboration between over 25 regional partners whose goal is to ensure that all Florida citizens have the opportunity to obtain a degree or certificate that will prepare them to join the regional workforce. The program targets high school students, adult learners, and veterans. Earn Up’s goal is for 60% of the Northeast Florida workforce to have a college degree or industry certification by 2025, and collaborators are watching metrics like FAFSA completion, high school graduation rates, post-secondary enrollment, and post-secondary completion to measure their success.

Long Term – Start preparing your workforce from cradle to career

A cradle to career initiative starts by preparing children to learn and continues through to connecting them with the skills and education they need for a successful career. This long-term investment in the talent pipeline engages educators, businesses, and community leaders and can take over a decade to pay off. Getting the next generation started off on the right foot and connecting students to career opportunities early on helps them establish their career in your economy and guarantees current employers or potential new businesses a robust talent pipeline for decades to come.

Best Practice: The Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative is a community-wide effort in Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester Counties, South Carolina focused on aligning and connecting education and workforce development resources in the region. It has four network programs spearheading widespread systematic change from PreK through postsecondary degrees. Network programs address kindergarten readiness, support students after high school graduation, and foster collaboration among post-secondary and high school educators to align curriculum and develop sought-after skills in students. TCCC has created a platform for collective impact that allows Charleston’s education institutions to better serve the region and enhance economic prosperity.