Talent Attraction in 2021

Strategies for Building Your Community’s Talent Pipeline in the Wake of COVID

Published on Jan 11, 2021

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Drew Repp

Each year our Talent Attraction Scorecard examines the success of communities in attracting and developing talent. With five years of data and rankings, we now have a clear picture of how each community is trending. 

But kind of like how records are meant to be broken, trends (at least the bad ones) are meant to be reversed. And perhaps the only thing harder than getting your talent attraction and development efforts going in the right direction, is keeping them going that way. 

To help with this, we couple each year’s Scorecard with strategies. These are derived from our years of work with communities and observations of what’s working across the country. 

The pandemic has forced communities to respond to the impacts of accelerated migration trends and telework on talent attraction and development. We’ve folded these impacts and others into our five strategies, which are broken out over time. Below is an overview of the strategies, but be sure and download the guide for a full dive with community examples.

  • 0 to 6 months: Attracting Talent

  • 6 months to 2 years: Transferable Skills and Responsive Programs

  • 2 to 4 years: Technical and Certificate Programs

  • 4 to 7 years: Higher Education

  • 7 to 10 years: Preparing for a Long-Term Future

0 to 6 months: Attracting Talent

The spike in remote work over the last year has allowed people to take their talents to South Beach, Boise, New Orleans, or wherever they feel is a better fit. This presents a great opportunity for communities to capture talent that is on the move. If pursuing remote workers, remember to be yourself. You don’t need to try to make yourself attractive to every type of worker. Whatever your strengths, highlight those and let talent decide if it’s what they’re after.

Similarly, be targeted. Maybe you want to lure back graduates or fill a particular skill gap. Take some time to determine which segment of remote workers you want to pursue. And something to keep in mind is that remote work is no longer just for tech workers/professionals. Now, employees in fields as varied as marketing, legal, and healthcare have joined its ranks. So when thinking through the type of worker to attract, know that you have lots of options.

Lastly, it’s going to be important to be creative. Incentives and remote worker programs were already on the rise, and the pandemic has reinvigorated them. You’ll need to think  through new and interesting ways to market your community in order  to set yourself apart. 

6 months to 2 years: Transferable Skills and Responsive Programs

New technologies are creating new jobs and altering existing ones at a constant pace. At the same time, a wide swath of people are still unemployed due to the pandemic. 

This means communities need to be nimble with their training programs, respond quickly to shifts, and emphasize reskilling and upskilling. One of the best ways to do this is to stay in close contact with executives and HR managers at your local businesses. They can keep you knowledgeable on in-demand skills. Job postings data also provides real-time info about employer intentions and needs.

Skills are particularly useful when helping people change careers, advance in their current role, or find a new job. Increasingly, today’s jobs require a combination of human and technical skills. As your community seeks to rapidly reemploy displaced workers and also upskill talent for new market demands, a good place to start is identifying existing skills that can be transferred.

2 to 4 years: Technical and Certificate Programs

At this stage, you need to identify the talent needs of the industries you want to strengthen and grow. Just as it’s important to understand the current talent needs of these businesses, it’s vital to understand the needs they see on the horizon. Your existing businesses know the technologies and trends of their industry, so they will be best to inform you of the skills which should be prioritized in technical and certificate programs.

Once you know the technical skill needs coming down the pike, your community college can develop or adapt necessary programs. Community colleges want their programs to be aligned with regional demand. Your efforts to facilitate a free-flowing conversation for them with local industry will help greatly in doing this. 

This is also a good place to think about service sector workers who have been hardest hit by pandemic closures. With strong human skills such as communication, problem-solving, and teamwork, these workers are in a prime spot to combine their current skills with new technical skills. This combination of human and technical skills creates the versatile worker sought by many employers.

4 to 7 years: Higher Education  

The pandemic is perhaps the disruption higher education needed to refocus its efforts on developing work-ready graduates. Economic and workforce developers should seize the opportunity to work with their local colleges and universities to reimagine how a college degree can better serve students and local employers. Over time, this will greatly build the talent pipeline in a region. 

Skills-based curriculums that align program offerings to the skill needs of employers and the market will better prepare graduates for success. Economic and workforce development organizations can help make this skills-based connection between jobseekers, education, and industry. At Emsi, we call this skillifying your curriculum. Communities and their higher-ed partners will also need to be responsive to new trends which will likely emerge from educational offerings such as Google Career Certificates. Such programs could change employer taste when it comes to qualifications.

7 to 10 years: Preparing for a Long-Term Future

To cultivate a healthy supply of talent, you need to start early. The fruits of these labors will take time to reap but are the necessary foundation for a resilient workforce over the long term. 

Introducing careers to students early will help them stay engaged and better understand the “why” of their schooling. By using local employers to showcase careers, communities can also plant an early seed that jobs and careers of interest can be found locally. The pandemic has only exacerbated the information gap that keeps students from taking advantage of career guidance and resource programs (fewer opportunities to learn about scholarships, grants, community college transfer programs, loans, work-studies, etc.). The unfortunate result is that students are less connected and could struggle to remain on an education path to a fulfilling career. Whether through information campaigns or facilitating connections, economic development organizations play a crucial role in filling this information gap. 

Furthermore, while certain trends were accelerated by the pandemic, it also shined a brighter light on areas long known to be lacking investment. Inadequate broadband in urban neighborhoods and rural communities was the most apparent. But there are others depending on the community, such as expanded bus service to get students and workers where they need to be. What’s important is that you remain cognizant of the many hurdles and barriers facing your talent, and push for community solutions. These investments will take time to come to fruition, but are a needed foundation for a long-term talent pipeline. And they often have the bonus of making your region a more attractive place to live for relocating talent. 

Getting Started

As with any project, the hardest step is often the first. If you’re having trouble getting started, remember that each of these phases and the entire approach to talent attraction and development boils down to three steps. 

  • Assess your community’s strengths and weaknesses

  • Identify the most pressing needs in your community

  • Use data to guide your strategy

Download the Talent Attraction Strategies for 2021 guide for more tips on how to begin building your talent pipeline or keep your momentum going in the wake of COVID.

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