Talent is a Tool for Growth

Talent is a Tool for Growth

Human capital is becoming a very hot commodity. When you read about economic development, it’s common to come across efforts to promote investment by marketing various regions to companies, prep sites for rapid buildouts, or offer competitive incentives. But lately, developers all over the state have been placing more emphasis on people rather than infrastructure or incentives. Over the last few months, all eyes have turned to talent as a means to drive economic growth in various Indiana communities.


21st Century Talent in NWI

Northwest Indiana recently became a 21st Century Talent Region, which is a statewide designation awarded to communities that are focused on working collaboratively to attract, develop, and connect talent.

The goal of the 21st Century Talent program is lofty and brings together multiple public and private partnering entities. In broad terms, it’s an initiative designed to create and implement plans to increase educational attainment, raise household income and grow the population in a region. The overall goal is to elicit high-demand, high-wage jobs by building up skill levels and improving quality of place.

Locally, this initiative is going to be led by the Center of Workforce Innovations (CWI), the NWI Forum and the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board. Activities will be taking place in the seven-county economic development region that encompasses Lake, LaPorte, Jasper, Newton, Porter, Pulaski, and Starke Counties.

“We look forward to our continued collaboration while expanding our base of partners around this exciting and vital effort benefitting Northwest Indiana,” said Linda Woloshansky, president and CEO of Center of Workforce Innovations (CWI).

“[This designation] falls directly in line with the Northwest Indiana Ignite the Region strategy and helps to continue to move the initiatives outlined in that plan forward,” added Heather Ennis, president and CEO of NWI Forum.

The partners detailed several key priorities they will be working on, including:

  • Maintaining a dashboard for all partners to deepen consistent collaboration
  • Analyzing data and identifying baseline and progress metrics for talent attraction and connection by the summer of 2021
  • Adopting an equity focus to narrow the achievement gap for underserved students by increasing graduation rates by 3 percent each year
  • Increasing employer engagement with the education and workforce systems in high-demand industry sectors
  • Increasing the number of internship or apprenticeship opportunities available by 10 percent each year
  • Increasing the number of graduates with post-secondary credentials by 5 percent each year


Early Results After Talent-Building Boom

According to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, hundreds of employers in the state are currently “aggressively taking proactive steps to try and solve some of the workforce challenges that have been prevalent in recent years.”

In an employer workforce survey conducted during the fall, over 930 responses from a broad range of industries indicated that work-based learning opportunities increased significantly compared to a year earlier in the following areas:

  • Student site visits (up 10%)
  • Job shadowing (up 5%)
  • High school internships (up 6%)
  • College internships (up 17%)
  • Apprenticeships/long-term training programs (up 7%)
  • Employers partnering with schools or training providers (up 9%)
  • Increases in employers offering tuition reimbursement (up 9%)
  • Flexible work hours to help with education attainment (41% to 53%)

Additionally, awareness of the state’s Next Level Jobs program – which is another major economic development initiative that works to skill up Hoosiers – has grown by 16%.

Interestingly, these efforts by employers to develop talent on their own is leading to a reversal of the workforce shortage trend that’s weighed heavily on the state’s economy over the past several years. The number of employers who cited filling workforce needs as one of their biggest challenges has decreased from 80% two years ago to just 37%. Also, the number of employers jobs unfilled due to underqualified applicants dropped by 5%.

Skillful Indiana was the lead sponsor of the survey, with support from Amatrol and WGU Indiana.


Talent Will Drive Growth

These efforts to build more talented Hoosiers will drive economic growth just as effectively, if not more effectively, than most types of shovel-ready sites or incentives. Human capital is incredibly valuable to industries, particularly in high-growth sectors, and any investments Indiana makes to develop it further will surely bring big returns.