By Dean Whittaker

The Talent Infrastructure Summit was held on September 28th, 2017 in Evansville, Indiana. It was an effort by the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana, the Executive Leadership Council, and Old National Bank to stimulate regional thinking about the quality of place and its impact on the community’s ability to attract and retain people to fill critical skill gaps. Like many communities, the Evansville region is facing talent challenges in critical occupations such as health care, maintenance, and production automation.

Greg Wathen, President/CEO of the Coalition set the stage by outlining the day’s activities.

Kim Lear, Founder & Content Director of Inlay Insights, was the first speaker, and she talked about the multi-general workforce, social characteristics of each generation, and how their values were shaped by the events that took place in the formative years of their lives.

Kim described that the 80 million Baby Boomers’ (1946-1964) world view was shaped by Vietnam, Woodstock, Watergate, Moon Landing, Women’s Rights, and Civil Rights. She said that Boomers tend to be optimistic, interested in social justice, mistrusting of institutions, and young at heart. There are 10,000 Baby Boomers eligible to retire every day for the next 20 years! Gen Xers (1965-1979) grew up with MTV, Apple computers, and 24-hour news. They were sold to continuously and became skeptical. They are independent (many growing up in divorced families), entrepreneurial, honest, and very direct. Millennials (1980-1995), 82 million of them, were shaped by the Internet, September 11, technology, social media. Their buying habits are shaped by word-of-mouth, and they are reluctant to talk, and would rather text or email. They are used to working in a collaborative manner, are risk averse, they delay adulthood, and are looking for meaning in their life and work. Generation Z (1996-2012) is parented by Gen X and is used to direct communications, learning from YouTube, and fact checking the teacher with Google. They realize they are competing globally and will often seek forgiveness rather than permission.

Cara Debbaudt, Founder/Recruiter of Pareto People, and I followed Kim on the stage to describe the 3-month Talent Recruitment Pilot project in which we are currently engaged. The project combines the use of layoff data, social media marketing, and recruiting to fill critical skills gaps. There are two health care systems and three manufactures participating in the pilot project. Cara discussed her work as a recruiter and pointed out the need to re-think the hiring practices of companies in view of the shift in which companies need to market themselves to potential candidates and consider the applicant’s experience as they move through the company’s hiring process. She pointed out that many companies’ current hire practices are too slow to be effective in attracting the best talent and was created at a time when they were designed to weed people out rather than proactively seek them.

Next, Dr. Christine Chmura, CEO and Chief Economist at Chmura Economics & Analytics, gave an overview of the demographic trends and their impact on the future of the region. There was an audible gasp when she showed a map depicting the aging of America and its impact on the workforce. (Be sure to click the play button on the map to see the visual animation of the aging of the United States over time.) Christine discussed the ratio of applicants per unfilled positions by occupation. She said that a potential of 50 applicants to each open position was preferred by prospective employers. However, in several occupations, the ratio was far below this amount, particularly in the fast-growing health care sector and factory automation.

The final presenter was Rich Overmoyer, President & CEO of Fourth Economy. Rich gave examples of their work as part of the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative to revitalize cities as change agents to help create equitable and sustainable communities. His firm’s effort underpins the work taking place in Evansville, Ft. Wayne, and Elkhart, Indiana to create a quality-of-place necessary in order to attract and retain talent.

The Summit was wrapped up by Greg Wathen as he challenged the 90-member, invitation-only audience to continue the conversation on the why, how, and what of building the physical and social infrastructure that will shape communities’ futures for years to come.