Designation as 21st Century Talent Region means Northwest Indiana on right path
A vital and robust region possesses several attributes. They may include good housing and educational systems, abundant recreational options, environmental beauty, thriving businesses, a solid record of inclusivity and equity for all, access to transportation, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, and a reasonable cost of living.
Additionally, a vital and robust region shows consistent population growth, offers good wages, and sees upward trends in educational attainment rates. How do communities achieve this? Through talent. They must have talent to create, manage and run businesses; to plan and construct good neighborhoods, houses, buildings and infrastructure; and to promote good civic leadership. Simply put, the undeniable core driver of economic development is people.
All of this became evident two years ago during the development of Northwest Indiana’s strategic plan initiative known as IGNITE.
It was through the IGNITE planning process where more than 100 business and community leaders identified talent as one of five core pillars essential to the economic development of the Region. Northwest Indiana has long been recognized for bringing stakeholders together to build strategies that will develop, improve and enhance our talent.
However, now more than ever, we recognize that talent is a vital asset and one of our economy’s most precious resources.
With strong enthusiasm, work began on the IGNITE Talent Pillar by researching issues important to inclusive development. Business partners looked at issues from understanding the skills needed for technology jobs, to innovative new programs and tools to help high school students succeed in achieving Indiana’s new Graduation Pathways standards.
The state also was looking at how to harness the many resources focused on talent development and evolving their value proposition to meet a most pressing concern: workforce quality — knowing that talent attracts and keeps businesses in Indiana.
The office of Career Connections and Talent, led by Secretary Blair Milo, and in partnership with Indiana’s economic development arm, launched a new framework to attract, develop and connect Hoosier talent.
The 21st Century Talent Region, so declared by the governor, allowed geographies to define as a region. From there, they would build and implement a plan to increase educational attainment, raise household income and grow population.
Coincidentally, these were the same three outcomes cited as most important in our regional IGNITE plan.
To become a 21st Century Talent Region required a commitment to work across organizations. Collaboration was key and included participation from local government, business, K-12 education, economic development, higher education, nonprofits and workforce development. We assembled a leadership team to work on the application process.
The team studied the process and then looked at the IGNITE plan to determine what activities and initiatives aligned. A collaborative talent plan was charted, complete with goals and measurable outcomes. We intentionally added initiatives to focus more on equity and inclusion for children, and preparing youth and adults for jobs in our key industry sectors today and tomorrow.
Through the plan, we envision that students will be able to identify a career and educational path earlier to achieve a post-secondary credential and employment. Adult workers will be able to transition to new career opportunities. Businesses will have access to the talent needed to grow, and community leaders will be able to better assess and invest in resources to develop, attract, connect and retain talent.
We are delighted that Gov. Eric Holcomb declared Northwest Indiana a 21st Century Talent Region on Sept. 17, 2020. This well-deserved designation belongs to the people of Northwest Indiana. However, this designation does come with the following directives: narrowing the equity gap by increasing the graduation rate of minority and underserved students by 5%; increasing work-based learning opportunities for students and adults by 10%; and ensuring there is an increase of the attainment of post-secondary credentials by our high school students by 5% each year.
This marks the beginning of our work and the collective work of all the current and future stakeholders, which will lead to a thriving economy for everyone.
Linda Woloshansky is president and CEO at the Center of Workforce Innovations in Valparaiso.