How To Build A Region’s Infrastructure Of Talent

Downtown Phoenix highrise buildings at dawn.

When it comes to creating a robust economy, you truly get what you pay for. With most investments however, it isn’t about how much you put in, but where. Traditionally, attracting new businesses and jobs to a region meant driving down operating costs, creating incentives and offering tax breaks. Presenting the best business case was primarily a matter of dollars and cents.

Today, the practice of business attraction has evolved, and standing out from the competition requires a more holistic approach to economic development. In addition to presenting a compelling financial case, businesses expect a region to provide a robust cast of supporting players: efficient roads and freeways, reliable power and water, supply chain access, international connectivity, a supportive business climate, high quality of life, political predictability and, above all else, a highly educated and skilled workforce from which to hire.

This critical piece of the economic development puzzle is the investment opportunity today that infrastructure development was in the 1980s. Regions that invest in the education, training and skills development of their future workforce will become the differentiated winners. Considering half of the jobs of tomorrow have not even been created yet, the way we educate the future workforce is changing.

Nationally, we could benefit from retooling our learning models to ones focused on a culture of educational instruction that promotes solving world problems and generating new ideas. At the White House last summer, Google GOOGL -1.48%’s Chief Education Evangelist Jaime Casap challenged traditional ways of thinking about education. He said, rather than asking students “what do you want to be when you grow up?” we should be asking “what problem do you want to solve?’.

Casap went on to make the point that our education system should reflect the economy we are trying to create. Students who can think critically, communicate effectively and solve complex problems will be better prepared to lead our businesses, government and communities. With more strategic alignment of education outputs and business needs, we can develop a generation of creative problem-solvers who think globally, act entrepreneurially and are prepared for tomorrow’s job market.

A market’s ability to produce talent is dependent upon several factors, primarily a K-20 system that produces graduates whose skills align with the demands of business and industry needs; a local concentration of talent as characterized by in-demand occupations; and the ability to attract people from outside the market.

Investing in talent also means thinking beyond the classroom. In order to attract and retain the best talent, a region’s lifestyle must appeal to today’s workforce, who are increasingly drawn to areas that offer efficient public transportation, varied housing options, abundant outdoor recreation, and art and cultural activities.

A resurgence in the popularity of downtown neighborhoods across the country is concentrating talent in urban centers. Shared, public spaces where people can make connections and exchange ideas foster a sense of belonging in the community and ownership over its future. Resources that support growth and innovation—such as technology incubators, co-working spaces, research institutions and startup funders—create an environment where innovators are free to test new ideas, disrupt traditional models and make game changing moves. Communities that invest in their shared public assets and spaces will see a return on their investment through the attraction and retention of top workforce talent, fueling business growth and innovation.

Investing in the future workforce through career and technical education, industry certifications, two-year and four-year programs also ensures there is a skilled workforce readily available for the advanced industry jobs that will foster a sustainable economy. At the end of the day, our work is about supporting the cycle of growth that ensures the future for the next generation is a prosperous one. What matters now is how we act to ensure we are doing what we can to provide those opportunities.

Chris Camacho is the President & CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.

Business Case, Education, Workforce Development,
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