A strong, highly skilled work force is generally considered one of the most basic pillars of local economic development. When a community has a highly educated, skilled work force, businesses are more likely to settle, stay, grow and prosper in that city.
For many years, however, communities have struggled with the outward migration of young educated workers, hindering a city's ability to sustain future economic growth.
An absence of highly-skilled workers dissuades certain knowledge-intensive industries from relocating to or remaining in an area. Cities benefit from these industries because they are generally considered a more sustainable, stable means of economic growth in a community.
Compounding the problem is the challenge of a workforce that is gradually getting older. Without access to younger, skilled workers, local industries do not have a pool of desirable replacements. In the long term, this strains innovation and forces communities to depend on lower-skilled industry bases, which generally offer lower salaries and less long-term stability.
Some cities have taken steps to provide the professional, social and community networks to encourage young, skilled workers to remain in their communities. These initiatives often offer students, and entry- and mid-level careerists services, such as professional and career development, job search assistance, volunteer opportunities, and social networking among peers and businesses from the area.
For example, the City of Philadelphia, in partnership with universities, nonprofits, businesses and the Chamber of Commerce, developed young professionals programs that assist students and future job seekers in multiple aspects of their careers. These programs, such as CampusPhilly and YPN Philadelphia, approach students as they begin the university admissions process and continue to offer services after they enter the work force as young professionals. The idea is that Philadelphia can grow its work force internally by reaching out to students who are already committed to the city.
There are signs that these efforts are paying off. From 2000 to 2008, Philadelphia's share of college graduates grew faster than the nation's average.
Another strategy is bringing individuals back to the community after they have completed college or other education opportunities elsewhere. For instance, a nonprofit called Summer on the Cuyahoga (SOTC) from Cleveland created a summer internship and professional development program for students in the area and those Cleveland residents who went to colleges in other states. Created by alumni from a select number of prestigious schools, these programs are meant to encourage young residents from the Cleveland area to return upon graduation.
In delivering services to these individuals, the City of Cleveland benefits from targeted retention and recruitment efforts that build upon the established connections that young students might have with the city. In the past seven years, the SOTC program has attracted more than 3,000 applicants.
Programs and efforts like these will likely continue in the coming years as cities continue to grapple with the changing work force needs of industries. In creating targeted, sustainable programs that build upon the needed skills of the business community, a city's work force becomes a catalyst for economic growth.