WITH COMMISSIONER ZORA MULLIGAN
In our second episode, we begin by talking with a group of individuals responsible for attracting and retaining employers and talent to the state of Missouri. As this conversation reveals, a significant part of this equation is having a stream of talented college graduates who are able to excel in the positions employers need to fill.
What is site selection?
Our guests described it as a dating game, beauty contest, and a game of survivor.
“It is a dynamic and precise analysis of geography, people, and business climates,” said Jim Alexander, senior vice president at the St. Louis Regional Chamber. “A client will come to a site selection consultant and give them a good overview of the types of requirements and characteristics they’re looking for in a workforce.”
The consultant then identifies an area where that business is most likely to achieve its goals and be successful.
Oftentimes companies are looking for flaws to eliminate communities and regions out of contention. Tim Cowden, president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council, pointed out that the role of the economic developer is to eliminate as many of those flaws as possible.
What employers are saying – talent, talent, talent
A central concern for businesses is to find employees with the right skill sets. Many of the rules that apply to site selection, and what businesses are looking for, are similar for urban and rural areas. Carolyn Chrisman, director of Kirksville Regional Economic Development, added that companies are generally well-equipped with demographic information that informs their decision-making. In her region, however, they collect additional information to communicate with employers because there is often a different story boots-on-the-ground than what you see on the surface. This includes analyzing populations and strategies for expanding the workforce.
The role of talent
Talent plays an integral role in employers’ decisions about where to start and where to expand their businesses. It’s emphasizing the importance of high-quality educational opportunities in attracting businesses to the state. Understanding what talent means to companies is important to making sure they have those skills.
While much of our time is spent looking forward, we thought it would be valuable to take a moment to step back and look to history to learn a little bit about how we got to the moment we’re in.
Talent for Tomorrow “needs to be an initiative that is about scale,” said Zora Mulligan, commissioner for higher education. “And if you think about the real and substantive changes that have happened in the last 150 years, the GI Bill certainly comes up on the list.”
Dr. Gary Kremer, executive director of the State Historical Society of Missouri. Kremer is a fifth-generation Missourian who previously taught history at Lincoln University and William Woods University, and served as the state archivist. He provided a look back at the transformational impact the GI Bill had on colleges in Missouri.
The GI Bill, formally the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, as victory on the European front drew closer. World War II, and the subsequent passage of the GI Bill, changed both Missourians shipped a world away to fight in distant battlefields and those who stayed home. The GI Bill overwhelmed colleges and universities across the country.
“During the war, [enrollment at] the University of Missouri—Columbia … declines to about 2,200. And by the fall of 1946, there are over 10,000 students,” Kremer said. “Seventy percent or more of them were veterans.”
This came with many logistical challenges, but “it’s hard to imagine what our society and economy would be like without such a generational transformation,” said Rob Dixon, director of economic development.
Seeing the connection between workforce and higher education
Throughout the Talent for Tomorrow initiative, we have been making significant efforts to learn from Missourians about how to improve our colleges and universities to prepare a 21st century workforce. We also believe it is necessary to look outward, to learn from others who share our values of promoting student success through connecting higher education and workforce development.
We sat down with Dr. Martin Van Der Werf, associate director of editorial and postsecondary policy at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW).
Van Der Werf believes that workforce development and education are inextricably linked, because “the main reason that people go to college is to get a job. And if they’re not going to get a job with what they’re majoring in, then they’re going to possibly see their investment in college as being wasted.”
So how do we address that? Van Der Werf suggests that more information about the availability and benefits of other programs—offered online and offline, as two-year degrees or certifications—could open doors people never knew existed. Even if students and institutions have the information they need, leaders in higher education must overcome a fundamental challenge: the workforce changes quickly and unpredictably, responsive to a constant deluge of inputs, while higher education is more slow-moving, requiring lengthy processes of program approval and review.
Additional resources & further reading:
MoTalent is a series by the Missouri Department of Higher Education focused on hearing real voices talk about economic and workforce development. This podcast is part of the Best in Midwest and Talent for Tomorrow initiatives.