by Pete Julius

For several years, our country has witnessed thousands of jobs moving overseas to low- cost countries such as China and India. Many people feel that this trend is the main reason why this country has experienced an enormous number of job losses over the past several years. There is no doubt that this trend has caused a huge economic blow to this country. However, this is not the only root of our economic problems. Our unemployment levels are high because our current business models do not jibe with the emerging knowledge-based economy. There is no doubt that we are in a period of transformation. The days of assembly-line work are coming to a close to make room for a more productive and efficient system. Traditional manufacturing and service-related jobs are for the most part moving to low-cost countries. At the same time, our economy is transitioning into a much more knowledge- and technology-based system that requires much more speed, skill and knowledge. As a result, a person who loses her manufacturing job must then compete for higher skilled jobs that are being occupied by people who are more qualified. This disturbing trend is moving our country towards a society that is made up of “haves” and “have-nots.” If this trend continues, people will either have lots of money and a nice job or very little money and not such a great job. It is a trend that is likely to continue well into the future as we transition and try to stay competitive in a global economy. Communities must make adjustments to these trends in order to compete. One approach is through talent retention.

Today’s knowledge-based workforce is drastically different from the workforce that existed in the industrial age. Knowledge-based workforce characteristics include high risk taking, a more aggressive nature, technology proficiency, and willingness to change jobs several times throughout a career. Traditional manufacturing workers are less likely to change their jobs unless forced to, generally do not like to take risks, and typically possess lower level skills than those demanded by the knowledge-based economy. Workforce development and training strategies can be developed to help make this transition smoother. In addition, communities must develop and implement retention strategies to keep the talent in the area.

Most of us by now have heard the term “brain drain.” Many communities are losing people who leave their community to find better, higher paying jobs outside their area. In order to prevent this from happening, communities must prepare strategies to retain their talented people. Here are some ideas on retaining local talent.

•  Develop Career Ladders – make it possible for someone to have the opportunity to start and end their careers locally rather than fleeing the area

•  Training Programs – identify the skills of the local labor force, determine the skills demanded by knowledge-based jobs, and implement the training programs needed

•  Education – adjust all levels of education to teach a curriculum that is in sync with what is needed from the knowledge-based economy

•  Peer-to-Peer Networking – arrange and promote networking and other peer-to-peer group events to help spur collaboration and opportunities

•  Community Involvement – invite and encourage businesses, schools, churches and others to get involved with or at least support the transitional strategies

•  Job Fairs – coordinate and conduct job fairs with local and regional businesses

•  Inventory Talent and Skills – prepare an inventory of the skills that exist within the community and target businesses that have a need for that talent

•  Market Local Talent – know the community’s skill sets and associated industries, then market the local talent

Also, it is very important to know the make-up of a knowledge-based worker. What kind of music do they like? What do they like to do in their spare time? What do they like to eat? What hobbies do they have? What do they need to learn? These are the types of questions that must be answered in order to be successful at retaining local talent. To be successful, communities must understand and meet the wants and needs of the knowledge–based worker to be successful.