Workforce Development and Talent Attraction

Published on Nov 26, 2019

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Drew Repp

Workforce Development and Talent Attraction

Workforce development continues to be the difficult code communities are trying to crack. And this struggle is not surprising—workforce development involves many entities, often with different mandates, who are using different languages and terms when communicating what they need and offer. Sometimes the first step is establishing good dialogue, and this will quickly reveal the common goal: developing a skilled workforce. From there, data can help clarify which strategies and initiatives each group can lead and partner on to fill gaps.  

It’s a tough task, but communities know growing their workforce is a must and that competition for talent is fierce. And while talent attraction is only one component of a workforce development strategy, it is a timely one. Whether capturing remote workers in search of a permanent home, or attracting skilled workers fleeing expensive coastal markets, talent attraction can greatly help in the larger workforce puzzle. And so the Emsi Talent Attraction Scorecard was created to better understand trends, provide insight on building key partnerships, and identify best practices for implementation.

The Scorecard and roadmap

Emsi uses six equally weighted metrics when creating our yearly Scorecard:

  • Net migration

  • Overall job growth

  • Skilled job growth

  • Educational attainment

  • Regional competitiveness

  • Annual openings per capita

It’s quickly obvious that even within talent attraction, there is more to the puzzle than just importing people (net migration). Growing a strong talent pool involves opportunities (overall job growth) and the right training (educational attainment).

To make better sense of the findings and leverage them, the Scorecard includes a five-step roadmap with strategies for the various phases of the workforce development life cycle:

For the talent needed right now, these strategies include an organized marketing strategy and a proper website to pitch your region. But they move on to what is needed to develop and upskill existing talent and prime a community’s talent pipeline for long-term success. 

While elements and tactics of the roadmap can be pulled out and applied to fit your community’s stage and needs, a few basic principles are vital to every phase and community.

Coordinate and Collaborate

This is true of every aspect of economic development. But because of the many parties involved in workforce development, it’s all the more important. Higher education, business, economic developers, workforce boards, K-12, and workers can’t operate in silos. Each one needs the others to better understand gaps in the region and how best to fill those gaps.

Recognizing that skilled workers remain at the core of businesses’ needs, economic development organizations can partner with college career centers to host information sessions on local talent demand. Or when determining which group of workers whose skills are transferrable to a possible new employer, economic developers must be in communication with their workforce boards to build appropriate training programs.

Burleson Works is a great example of what can happen with local collaboration. The City of Burleson, Texas partnered with business, educators, and workforce development professionals to create the program that provides skilled training and a guaranteed path to a job with a local employer.

Follow the Lead of Employers

With the competition for talent intensifying, communities can’t afford to waste time and resources on efforts that aren’t actually matching talent to businesses. And the best way to know for sure what employers need is to have them at the table and follow their lead.

Technological advances mean new businesses and even industries are appearing at a rapid pace. To hit on the right upskilling programs, economic developers need to be attune to the expressed needs of local employers. In lockstep with the coordinate and collaborate principle, bring industry into the conversation along with colleges and workforce development groups to hear directly from businesses what skills they need and where their pain points are. 

Whether trying to fill immediate needs through talent attraction marketing or microcredentials, or developing a long-term strategy for an emerging industry, the conversation should include business throughout. There’s no way a program like Louisiana’s LED FastStart can be successful without being in constant communication with industry to understand their needs. Because changes in the economy will only continue to accelerate, steps 1 – 3 of the Scorecard roadmap are particularly sensitive to the need for engaging closely with employers.

Focus on Skills

In the end, skills are what people have and businesses need. Yes, talent is the new currency, but it’s skills that give the currency value. When assessing your community’s talent for current or prospective businesses, drilling down and knowing what skills are prominent in your region can set you apart. This is why Emsi spent the last two years mapping regions by skills clusters to identify the unique supply and demand by skill group in a region.

For short-term credentialing needs, listening to businesses and collaborating with local training institutions will allow you to cut through the noise and create just-in-time programs that produce in-demand skills. Coding academies, business incubators, and apprenticeship programs are mines ready to be tapped for some of industry’s most pressing skill needs. 

Furthermore, many skills likely already exist, but we just might not be looking in the right spot. A caregiver who stepped away from the workforce might have just the soft skills a local manufacturing sales team is looking for. Or a web developer currently working remotely for a marketing firm might be just who the fintech startup at your co-working space is in need of. Skills cut across roles and industries. Finding the connections can be a game changer for economic developers.

Similar to following the lead of employers, finding skills clusters involves following the lead of data. Emsi’s Degrees at Work study recently found that students from a wide range of degree programs often fill the same roles in businesses, and exhibit many of the same skills. Helping businesses think in terms of skills, as opposed to abstract qualifications, will open them up to a larger talent pool for their hiring needs.

Webinar: Trends and Strategies in Talent Attraction

Workforce development isn’t easy (meaningful work rarely is). Thus, the Talent Attraction Scorecard is intended to not only spot trends in talent attraction, but also serves as a tool to help overcome challenges. On our December 10th webinar, Trends and Strategies in Talent Attraction, we will further discuss strategies, principles, and best practices in workforce development. Our special guest, Chris Laney, Director of Workforce Education at CareerSource Suncoast, will share how leaders in Sarasota and Manatee counties have developed a workforce excellence plan using Emsi’s strategies. Hope you can join us!


Having success with talent attraction? We’d love to hear what’s working for your community. Questions about the Scorecard or how to put these principles into action? We’d love to hear from you too.