The availability of talent has been a topic getting ever-increasing exposure, and well it should. We already are experiencing challenges in filling positions across the board in the region, slowing growth and development on many fronts. This is not a sensation exclusive to our area, but as stated by CREC — the firm contracted by Momentum West to orchestrate the Regional Talent Initiative — the aggressive approach to dealing with these challenges is setting us apart.

With grants from both the Otto Bremer Foundation and WEDC, we’ve been forging forward with a collaborative effort to tackle these challenges head on. After over 100 interviews with representatives from the 10-county region covered by Momentum West, and several working sessions with dozens of folks representing education, manufacturing, high tech, economic development, chambers of commerce, workforce development and others, we now have a set of actions that can help turn the dial.

On Nov. 15, CREC, Momentum West and numerous regional partners rolled out eight recommended initiatives for the region to implement to address current and pending talent challenges. The following are just an overview of the report/recommendation documents, with the detailed reports available by clicking the workforce development tab on the Momentum West website and the December 2016 newsletter.

Although some of the information is not new, and parts of initiatives are already being addressed with existing programs, the key is to address these regionally — expand our efforts, improve efficiency, reach and results. The strategic plan focuses on achieving two overarching goals:

Expanding the talent pool — There simply are not enough working adults available in the region to fill existing jobs. The tight labor market is expected to continue getting tighter, and the region needs to implement strategies that will increase the number of people available for work.

Improving labor market efficiency — The current workforce is not being used as productively as it could. This may be due to several reasons: lack of adequate preparation for work among prospective job seekers; unproductive career placement activities for students and job seekers; or ineffective employer hiring practices. These conditions are not ideal in a market with plentiful labor, but they become major impediments in a tight labor market.

There are four initiatives under each of these two goals, with numerous specific recommendations under each initiative, some existing and many new.

Initiative 1.1: Develop a targeted marketing campaign to communicate the region’s unique quality of place assets to students graduating from area universities before they leave the region.

Initiative 1.2: Develop coordinated communications and outreach to area alumni about the benefits of living in the Momentum West region.

Initiative 1.3: Market local job opportunities to out-commuters currently working in the Twin Cities.

Initiative 1.4: Provide job and support services targeted to traditionally under-represented groups.

Initiative 2.1: Address industry talent needs for targeted industries (e.g., health care, advanced manufacturing, information technology, and higher education).

Initiative 2.2: Provide career planning support and skills information (about targeted industries) to key audiences in collaboration with employers, educational institutions and workforce organizations.

Initiative 2.3: Provide business-led career learning opportunities for young adults (age 24 and under).

Initiative 2.4: Raise awareness among job seekers about local openings and among employers about job search practices.

Launching these initiatives is just a starting point, and will most likely lead to additional discovery and other initiatives. But unless we take on our talent challenges as a region, and take them on now, we’ll fall behind those that do. The ball is in our court to drive these forward with our partners throughout the region.

To accomplish this, we’ll be looking for groups of two to lead each initiative, as well as members to form the initiative team and work with them.

We already have members of the three UW System schools, chambers of commerce and business and industry that have come forward to volunteer their time to be a lead or team member.

This speaks to the understanding, desire and urgency of our effort. Please let me know if you are interested in helping tackle one of these initiatives.

Let the fun begin!

Steve Jahn is executive director of Momentum West, a 10-county regional economic development corporation. Contact him at steve@momentumwest.org or 715-874-4673.

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