What It Takes to Recruit Talent
|By Patrick M. Barkey
March 6, 2006
Most cities have mayors, police chiefs, and tax collectors. But suppose for a moment that they each had an additional staff position as well – the recruiter. Like a basketball coach or a talent scout, these recruiters would scour the country, looking for talented people that would fit into the community and add to the economic base. And when they found one, they would make their “pitch,” touting their town’s assets and strengths, and urging them to relocate. The prospects, on the other hand, would weigh each of the offers of the various recruiters, and make the best choice.
It’s not all that far fetched. We are a mobile society, after all, and attracting talent is precisely what the fastest growing parts of the country have been doing all around us. But when it comes to recruiting individual people, its businesses who do the actual legwork trying to entice the workers they want to hire, not cities and towns.
But the city and the community are a big part of the pitch, as any business who recruits nationally will tell you. What do prospects see when they evaluate your community against the competition?
In my opinion, this is exactly the question every city and town in Indiana should be asking. Because what a potential new resident sees, and what you see, within your own community may be quite different. The prospective new resident is typically younger, with school-aged children, better educated, and more likely to be nonwhite or foreign-born than those who live in Indiana today. And if we do not collectively succeed in attracting them to live in our cities and towns, the road to prosperity will become very long indeed.
That’s because the high paying, knowledge-intensive jobs every community covets are also the most highly specialized, and the notion that local residents can somehow fill them when they are created is just a myth. These jobs pay for themselves only when the right person fills them, and finding that match often requires a region-wide or even a national search.
Their reference for comparison for those prospects is how things are done in other states or even other countries, not how they used to be done here. Issues like the demise of single-class basketball or the folly of daylight savings time are not on their radar screens. They want what everyone wants – to enjoy a decent standard of living, to live in a nice surrounding, and to have a good environment for their families – but their priorities may be different than yours or mine.
That’s particularly so regarding one crucial aspect of our community’s “product mix,” namely, educational quality. As any realtor will tell you, for those who raise or expect to raise children, the quality of schools is a pivotal issue in deciding where to live, particularly for parents who are more educated themselves. If we want to successfully recruit talented people, we need to convince them that their children can and will receive the kind of top-notch, high quality education here that will enable them to compete on their own when they become adults.
And the basis for comparison is not the school district next door. Rather, it is the school district of anyplace else in the country they might land. How does your own school system stack up against that kind of competition?
For most parts of Indiana the answer is – not as well as we’d like. It’s hard to gauge educational quality from a site visit, but the outward signs of our state’s commitment to K-12 education are not positive. Our average pay for teachers is low, our graduation rates are appalling, and we have yet to adopt full-time kindergarten. It’s a daunting problem with no easy or cheap solution in sight, certainly. But can the state really become a destination, instead of a point of origin, for talented people until it is addressed?
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