The Focus Should Be on the Talent Pool

The authors of the recent 10-year update of the region’s Plan for Progress (see story, page 6) are right to put a hard focus on the region’s talent pool and the obvious need to make sure it is large and deep enough for businesses large and small to thrive in the years and decades to come.

The update, released by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission this week after more than 16 months of research and deliberations, lists a host of opportunities, challenges, and goals for the next decade, and improving the talent pool falls into all three categories.

It’s clearly a goal and certainly the most important one for this region moving forward. It’s an opportunity, because every state, every region, and every city will be facing the same burden over the next decade, and those which can tackle it successfully will have a huge competitive advantage over those who don’t. And those who fail to tackle it, well, they are going to be left behind.

And it is a stern challenge because the Baby Boomer generation is huge, and it will soon be leaving the workforce. In fact, many of its members have already departed. Replacing these individuals will be a stern test, not just with regard to sheer numbers, but also when it comes to the skill sets the next generation of workers must possess.

As we’ve noted on many occasions, members of previous generations could fairly easily earn a decent living and support a family without a college education and, quite often, even without a high school diploma. That will certainly not be the case moving forward.

But efforts to ensure a large, deep talent pool are not just about replacing retiring Baby Boomers — although that’s a big part of it. It’s about fueling the economic growth we anticipate that this region will experience over the next few decades, and, even more to the point, it’s about making sure that growth can occur.

As we’ve noted in recent months, there is in fact an entrepreneurial renaissance taking place in this region. Supported by groups like Valley Venture Mentors and inspired by the region’s colleges and universities, many young people are deciding that business ownership is an attractive career option.

The fledgling businesses and next-stage ventures now populating the Valley will need many things to succeed beyond a viable product or service. They’ll need capital, technical support, and mentoring to help ensure they don’t make the mistakes that derail so many new businesses.

But eventually, they’ll need talented employees. And without them, they won’t get very far.

There’s a theory that people will always go where the jobs are, and to a certain extent that’s true — Boston and Silicon Valley are perfect examples of this. But Greater Springfield is a very long way from being in that category.

Thus, this region most develop a workforce the hard way, by cultivating it. And as the updated Plan for Progress states, this must be a multi-pronged effort that includes everything from early childhood education (and making sure everyone has access to it) to introducing college students to career opportunities in this region in hopes that they will stay in this area code rather than start their career elsewhere.

Also, there must be targeted training programs such as those developed by the Training Workforce Options program to address needs within specific industries.

Getting this job done will not be easy, but for that reason, this matter of talent-pool development simply must have the region’s full attention.

The stakes are way too high, and failure simply is not an option. v

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