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November 1, 2023

How To Attract And Retain Talent In A Full Employment Economy

With national unemployment rates hovering around 3.8%, we are a nation at full employment. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report illustrates that there are approximately 1.4 job openings for every individual unemployed and available to work. At the same time, our economy has shifted. The economic unit driving our economy today is no longer land or […]

With national unemployment rates hovering around 3.8%, we are a nation at full employment. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report illustrates that there are approximately 1.4 job openings for every individual unemployed and available to work. At the same time, our economy has shifted. The economic unit driving our economy today is no longer land or physical buildings—it’s people.

Brookings’ Joe Parilla estimates that the economic value of knowledge and capabilities of the U.S. workforce is approximately $240 trillion, four times more valuable than physical assets and 10 times more valuable than land. Unlike land and buildings, people can live and work wherever they like. Talent has choices. This creates a significant challenge for cities, states and businesses seeking to attract and retain talent. So what can be done?

Within a community, connecting the workforce economic engines that drive your economy to the businesses within your community is key. The days of interfacing between workforce development systems—such as colleges, universities and training providers—are over.

There must be tight integration between employers and the organizations that develop the talent. This requires organizations that typically haven’t engaged at this level to collaborate and develop partnerships where the skills, knowledge and abilities are clearly articulated, and workforce providers tightly link their curriculum and training such as to the needs of the employer.

This completely shifts the current environment from one that is supply-driven—e.g., go get a degree or credential—to one that is driven by employer demand. As in, the employer dictates the specific degrees or credentials needed and the curriculum to support them. It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary.


This shift requires communities to rethink the physical places needed to facilitate these exchanges. Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner wrote a report on "The Rise of Innovation Districts," focused on this placemaking. The oldest example here in the U.S. is Silicon Valley. It’s an ecosystem where startups to Fortune 500 companies can thrive. It’s an economic ecosystem that is nearly 70 years old. It’s also a place where talent can see the many opportunities that are available to them.

There are many of these innovation districts throughout North America, from TechSquare in Atlanta to Kendall Square in Boston to MaRS in Toronto to the Cincinnati Innovation District in Ohio. All are thriving epicenters for talent attraction and retention, which can lead to company attraction and retention and increased economic vitality.

Placemaking is typically limited to amenities such as parks, bike trails and affordable housing. These are key ingredients, but placemaking specifically for economic development needs to be a top priority, too. Intentionality with respect to development is critical as well. Most communities don’t have 70 years to accelerate their economy.

Employer Perspective

For an employer, rethinking talent attraction and retention is required. The days of posting positions and expecting individuals to have the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities are over. In addition, the training and development of current employees must be rethought.

Let’s start with your current talent team. Instead of looking outside the organization for talent, why not seek to develop the talent you have first? These are individuals who know your organization and are the best opportunity to meet your current and future needs. Think about the skills most needed by your organization and the individuals you currently have in place. What are the development opportunities available to advance their knowledge to fill these jobs?

Seek to take your existing workforce and advance individuals from low- to mid-skill and from mid- to high-skill. Yes, it will leave openings in your current workforce, but the lower-skilled openings can be easier (but not easy) to fill.

For openings left unfilled, you can work with training providers like freight broker training services and higher education institutions to understand your specific requirements and build the pipeline of specific talent needed. This will require rethinking the integration, not interfacing, of organizations that can develop the talent you need in your organization.

Consider being part of the interviewing process on the front end and engaging throughout the training or education process to build the talent pipeline to your organization. A recent example is a multimillion-dollar investment by Eli Lilly, headquartered in Indiana, with Purdue University. (Disclosure: I am on the Purdue Research Foundation board, which is a private, nonprofit foundation created to advance the mission of Purdue University.)

This investment is to build the pharmaceutical manufacturing workforce needed by their business. Lilly will influence the selection of individuals into the program, work with faculty to modify curriculum specific to Lilly, offer internships and scholarships to all participants and engage their leadership with the students both in and outside the classroom. It is possible to develop the workforce needed, but it requires employers to plan and rethink their attraction and retention of talent.

Individual Perspective

From an individual perspective, developing the knowledge, skills and abilities needed today and into the future is an ongoing engagement. The days of learning a particular skill and having it serve you for a whole career are long over.

With the introduction of digital technologies and the pace of change, developing your talents is a joint responsibility between you and your employer. It requires taking a proactive approach to your career and understanding what is needed for your current role and what will be needed for future roles.

Likewise, if you are early in your career, there are plenty of options to get a degree certification or credential. Choose wisely; not all degrees, certifications or credentials result in the same outcomes. Talk with employers or individuals in your field of interest to understand what is needed, the financial opportunity and the long-term outlook. For example, truck drivers are in high demand, and wages might look good, but with autonomous vehicles on the horizon, you might ask if the future is bright and if the skills developed would be transferable and valuable to future employers.

We are in a full employment situation where communities, employers and individuals need to rethink how they attract and retain talent. Further, they need to consider and understand what the marketplace requires today and into the future.

Article written by:  Orville Lynch, Jr.
Mr. Lynch, a member of the legendary two-time Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame Award winning Lynch Family. Mr. Lynch is a nationally recognized urban media executive with over 20+ years of diversity recruitment and serial entrepreneur with numerous multi-million dollar exits.
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