Guest Blogger: Steve Urquhart

[heading style=”elegant”] Creating A Sustainable Talent Pipeline For Florida [/heading]

Written By:
Steve Urquhart
Strategic Planner – Orange County, FL

When it comes to talent, the good news for Florida is that we are well-positioned in the race for twenty-first century competitiveness in an increasingly global, knowledge-work focused economy. The not-so-good news: none of our competitor states are standing still or waiting for us to catch up.

So, where are we today? How important will the role of talent development be in the context of economic development and future growth? And what about these so-called “megatrends” that will have increasing levels of importance over the next 10-plus years:

– Health and life sciences – an aging population, medical capability and longer life expectancy
– Global connectedness  – communication, governance, trade and access to capital
– Accelerated technology development – beyond computing and into all aspects of our lives
– Environmental sustainability – resource scarcity and competition, energy and water
– Social changes – individualism versus collectivism, society cultures, values and norms
– Urbanization – population growth will be disproportionately greater in global urban centers
– Security – from cyber-security to protection of personal and business assets

This list is not all-inclusive, and there are multiple published perspectives on what exactly constitutes a megatrend. Each of the points listed above has a direct implication for Florida, and for the partnerships between business, education, economic development and communities, whether they are thinking from the state perspective or looking at competitive factors as regions or “super regions.”

To the point of talent development, the partners identified above can play a linchpin role in helping  businesses assess the current needs and gaps in the workforce, while at the same time taking the long view for those emerging skills that will be increasingly vital, not only for competitiveness but, more critically, for relevance in the not-so-distant future. Knowing that the nature of knowledge work is that it is no longer location-dependent, people who plan to remain relevant and employed in the future will have to possess these skills, at a minimum:

1. Problem solving and decision making
2. Creative and critical thinking
3. Collaboration, communication and negotiation
4. Information evaluation – find, select, structure, sense-making
5. Intellectual curiosity and exploration

To put a finer point on these new skill requirements, the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce says: “the best employers the world over will be looking for the most competent, most creative, and most innovative people on the face of the earth and will be willing to pay top dollar for their services – not just for top professional managers but up and down the workforce.”

In a recent report spearheaded by the Florida Council of 100, the talent availability challenges are enumerated for Florida, with a strong emphasis on the importance of education as well as tighter alignment of economic development and talent development needs. The report talks about “talent supply chain,” which is a system of resources and infrastructure that prepares people, on a lifelong basis, to advance the needs of enterprises of all scales, sizes and sectors.

For Florida’s talent supply chain to be effective and sustainable, it must be:

– Seamless, integrated and coordinated (across all stakeholder groups and partners)
– Access-oriented, so all residents can participate regardless of personal or financial circumstances
– Market-driven, driven by the state’s most pressing economic needs, especially science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to include medical and life sciences.
– Focused on high standards, accountability and incentives
– Cost-effective, with investments and resources directed to areas that have the greatest impact on the achievement of priorities

In the near term, there appears to be a paradox: record unemployment levels across the state and parts of the country, and yet a continual concern on the part of employers that they are not able to find the talent they need to compete. This can be attributed to several factors, among them a skill gap in the workforce (and consequent structural unemployment); a “reset” in terms of what companies are willing to pay given the intense competition for jobs; and an over-reliance on technology to perform the functions of talent acquisition.

A Workforce Planning Study by Day & Zimmerman’s Yoh workforce planning group pointed out that businesses are likely to underestimate the amount of time they will need to ramp up their workforce recruitment, and that in many cases it will take months to find the desired talent, and a year or more for new hires to be productive in their roles.

In the Yoh study, more than half of the surveyed companies indicated that recruiting and hiring the right people will be the number one workforce planning challenge, and there is only a moderate sense of confidence that businesses have the talent they will need to compete and grow if and when the economy truly recovers. This only makes the need for a more effective talent supply chain more vital, not only for the viability of Florida’s business communities around the state, but also for the talent that resides here. More effectively matching the supply and demand will be a critical component of success, and this will require a different kind of collaboration than what has been done in the past.

Each of Florida’s regions is pursuing some or all of the most coveted sectors, including digital media; life sciences (including biotech and healthcare); modeling, simulation and training; optics and photonics; aviation and aerospace; clean technology and sustainable energy, and many more. As Florida actively competes for talent in these fields, so too are its domestic rivals – such as Massachusetts, the District of Columbia/Beltway, Texas and California, just to name a few.

Key partners across the state are working to secure Florida’s foothold in these key targeted sectors, through initiatives such as the Six Pillars Caucus System, led by the Florida Chamber Foundation and involving more than 100 similarly concerned organizations and 400+ leaders from around the state, including public-private partnerships, corporations, academic institutions, foundations and community partnerships. The six pillars are as follows:

1. Talent Supply & Education
2. Innovation & Economic Development
3. Infrastructure & Growth Leadership
4. Business Climate & Competitiveness
5. Civic & Governance Systems
6. Quality of Life & Quality Places

In a February 2012 meeting, Dr. Dale Brill, then Florida Chamber Foundation’s president, reaffirmed the Chamber’s commitment to tracking these key areas for Florida, and continuing to work on a 20-year strategic plan for the state that encompasses each of these areas. He identified the stakeholders and organizations who have stepped forward to help in the pursuit of these goals, and listed the active members of the respective caucuses, each based on one of the pillars listed above. The Talent Supply & Education caucus emphasized the need to “leverage Florida’s [human and] intellectual capital to transition to a knowledge-based economy,” with supporting initiatives that include alignment of workforce training/retraining to areas of growth, and active leadership of growth in targeted industries and sectors.

A Florida Scorecard has been created to track the state’s progress against a number of goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) with a horizon of 2030 and some very ambitious goals for Florida to tackle. In the area of talent supply and education, these goals include key measures such as K-12 readiness and attainment; high school graduation rates; bachelors degree production rates; and high wage jobs and average wages.

Making progress on these key performance indicators for Florida’s workforce will depend on a strong focus on talent development from entry level onward, where Florida begins to build its base of world-class talent by instilling a sense of commitment to lifelong learning and continual skills upgrade to meet the rapidly changing needs of Florida’s economy. This is where the “demand driven” side of the workforce system is most visible, as we begin to see the leveraged private investment (corporate training funds, etc.) that is contributing to training and development in targeted industries and critical jobs, such as health sciences, energy, infrastructure, and technology.

It is in this area where Workforce Florida, through its board of directors, the statewide regional workforce boards, and the public-private partnership, takes the lead on workforce development initiatives and the creation and implementation of programs that contribute to the continual development of talent that meets the current and future needs of the global economy.

Through Workforce Florida and its network of workforce boards throughout the state, we are able to provide a baseline of funding and to develop partnerships with the education and training providers (e.g., community colleges, state colleges and universities, for-profit institutions, etc.) with a clear tie to private industry needs. The return on investment is significant because workers are improving their economic value as well as their productivity through skills upgrade, benefiting the business where they apply their skills and improving upon Florida’s talent base.

Florida is also positioned to demonstrate leadership in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, a critical focus area that is under-represented in the current workforce and will ultimately shape Florida’s standing as a global player in the innovation economy.

In coining the term “Creative Class” to describe a large and increasingly important part of the workforce, Richard Florida also set forth a number of criteria to use in evaluating cities, regions and states for their relative competitiveness in attracting and retaining denizens of this socioeconomic class. In a 2006 project commissioned by Enterprise Florida, colleagues of Richard Florida from Carnegie Mellon University conducted a provisional benchmarking report [13] of Florida relative to other competitor states, using the categories of talent, tolerance, technology and territorial assets to rank Florida and identify its strengths and weaknesses.

There are a number of aspects of this benchmarking that would be valuable for Florida’s regions to revisit in light of the most recent five years of Florida’s recession and nascent recovery, particularly in the fields of technology, talent, tolerance, and diversity.

For the Enterprise Florida project, Florida was benchmarked against California, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Cities and metro areas in the U.S. that have been successful in attracting and retaining the Creative Class include Chapel Hill, N.C.; Washington, D.C.;  Seattle, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; and Austin, Tex.

Florida needs to actively invest in the recruitment and retention of businesses and talent that make up the STEM field, driving earnings potential for the workforce and creating the wealth and prosperity (not to mention the tax base) to make Florida’s regions sustainable and attractive for the long term. A recent McKinsey Global Institute study points out that of the nine possible drivers of changes in labor income, two in particular reshaped demand for labor across the workforce. These were skill-biased technological change (technology, for short) and trade, foreign direct investment (DFI) and offshoring.

Taking into account the current state of Florida, the steps that must be taken to secure a leadership role in the innovation economy, and the aspiration to be the destination of choice for businesses, workers and families who can put imagination to work, these are just a few areas that are germane to the issue of talent development and where Florida can, and must, take meaningful action. And don’t forget: not only are our competitor states not waiting for us to catch up, our international competition expands and intensifies every day.

Steve Urquhart is the Manager of Organization Development & Strategic Planning for the Orange County Clerk of Courts.