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The Six Phases to Building a Strong Talent Pipeline for Your Community

November 14, 2018 by Emsi Burning Glass

A few years ago, when the labor market wasn’t as tight as it is today and people felt the aftermath of the Great Recession more than they do now, talent attraction was a strategy that communities had to explain and justify.

Recruit people to our city? Why should we focus on that over attracting businesses?

These type of questions from critics rarely surface now. Almost every economic development organization, urban and rural (especially rural), has formed a talent attraction plan.

Talent attraction by itself isn’t enough. Talent development and talent retention are just as important.

The three elements to successful workforce development—developing, attracting, and retaining skilled talent—require short- and long-term thinking among community partners.

We outlined a six-phase roadmap to building your community’s talent pipeline in the third annual Talent Attraction Scorecard. Last week we went over these phases in a webinar hosted by C2ER (download the webinar’s PowerPoint and watch the recording).

Here’s an explanation of the six phases, with best practices from communities across the U.S.

1. Talent Attraction: 0 to 6 Months

How can you impact your region’s workforce development landscape today? After all, the businesses you serve need talent, and they need it now. In this phase, you’re trying to recruit talent from outside your region, which means they’ll likely be white-collar workers or tradespeople who can make good money and are more likely to move.

Get creative in your search
Look for talent pools among some or all the following:

  • High school and college alumni who have left your region (this is where Emsi’s Workforce Insight comes in handy)
  • People with relatives living in your community
  • Underemployed workers
  • Veterans transitioning to civilian life
  • Remote workers who could have a physical presence in your community

Channel your marketing skills
Use metrics that matter like adjusted cost of living compared to peer regions and other communities (candidates could make $X more if they moved). Develop talking points that resonate with your target audience:

  • Mid-level workers care about affordability, school, quality of life, and continuing education.
  • College grads care about all the above plus your amenities, downtown, and arts and culture.
  • Entrepreneurs care about coworking spots, resources for startups, networking opportunities.

Drive people to a website that focuses on your selling points, including a local job board or employer portal (such as Emsi’s Career Coach) where you can showcase specific companies and jobs.

2. Transferable Skills: 6 Months to 2 Years

In this phase, we recommend partnering with training providers outside of traditional education—as well as community and technical colleges that can spin up short-term certificate programs.

How can you retool or upskill workers already in your area?

  • Be employer-driven: The first people you should reach out to are executives and HR managers at your region’s key businesses. If they’re not engaged or driving the conversation, talent attraction and workforce development will have a hard time succeeding.
  • Focus on skills and job titles, not just standard occupations: Publicly available data from the BLS and others is wonderful, but it can get quickly outdated. This is why talking to employers is vital, and why we recommend filling in the gaps with job postings and resumes to analyze how skills cluster together based on core employer needs.
  • Look to coding academies, apprenticeships, incubators: The more non-traditional (and traditional) education providers you have in your region, the better. It’s also worthwhile to ramp up the number of workers in your community with ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificates, as Site Selection Magazine has measured.
  • Don’t forget about workforce development agencies: One proven method for helping businesses get quick talent is providing minimal training to individuals with similar skillsets that could transfer to needed positions. For this, we suggest diving into job posting analytics and skills transferability data from O*NET. A newer approach that Emsi is piloting is to compare an adult learner’s résumé with the résumés of thousands of others with similar backgrounds to look at the shape of their skills profile, the sequence of their job history, and recommend new careers.

3. Technical and Certificate Programs: 2 to 4 Years

This phase is an ideal spot to encourage apprenticeships, develop sector strategies, search for state and federal training grants, and generally involve higher education and the business community to develop a sustainable talent pipeline.

Some training will require more than a short-term certificate, and the process to determine demand and start such a program can take time. But it can’t be skipped or shortchanged.

Well-aligned workforce development programs, like AIDT in Alabama and Tennessee’s integrated approach, don’t just make for strong workforce development platforms—they’re also powerful business recruitment tools.

How can community leaders influence curricular decisions? Again, we suggest you use employer-driven strategies and partner wherever possible. It’s also important to use primary and secondary data on in-demand jobs and skills. The right metrics will help you establish a baseline and track progress.

4. Advanced Skill Sets: 4 to 7 Years

This phase is where we encourage communities to start thinking of long-term talent development. And that can’t be done without partnering with local four-year colleges.

Universities are prime sources of young talent that businesses covet. Cities with educational institutions attuned to industry needs—if they can retain graduates, which is a big “if” for some communities—have a leg up on their competition in attracting businesses. (It’s no surprise that each of the Amazon HQ2 finalists have robust university systems nearby.)

The encouraging thing is more universities are becoming focused on their graduates’ employment outcomes. A strong example is the University of New Mexico, which has strengthened employer partnerships by showcasing where their graduates are employed and what job titles and skills they have.

Stronger employer partnerships often create great feedback loops to complement long-term occupational projections. This informs program development, which in turns leads to communities producing workers with skillsets that businesses want to hire.

5. Information Gap: 7 to 10 Years

Program alignment and partnerships are great, but if you don’t have students’ interest and awareness of these offerings, it’s all for naught. This approach is twofold.

First, communities need to invest in junior high and high school programs that align to the future workforce needs. Studies have shown the effectiveness of middle school physics programs and their connection to graduates going into STEM-related college programs.

Second, communities should help build awareness—starting in middle school or earlier—of the real-life labor market opportunities in the area. Here are two examples of regions doing just this:

  • The South Florida TechGateway is a public/private initiative to market the tech opportunities in a large region headlined by Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach to potential talent and companies. The website maps academic institutions, fast-growing tech companies, large tech employers, and tech creators in South Florida. It was developed by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance (GFLA), Miami-Dade Beacon Council, and Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. GFLA, for one, markets TechGateway to middle school and high school students by handing out posters showing all the region’s tech companies to make them aware of the thriving-but-underappreciated South Florida tech cluster.
  • Partners in the Monterey, California, area created the Monterey Bay Career Connect. It’s a career exploration site that features local jobs and programs at six universities and colleges and was developed by Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, Bright Futures, Monterey Bay Office of Education, Santa Cruz Office of Education, Santa Cruz Workforce Development, and Monterey County Workforce Development Board.

6. Starting Early: 10 to 15 Years

Research has shown education is most influential the earlier students are introduced to concepts and ideas. There is a significant body of research supporting the introduction of technology and science earlier into curriculum will pay off in more interest in STEM fields down the road. Even non-STEM occupations are requiring computer knowledge. Familiarity with tech and software will give students a brighter career outlook.

In short, the connection between education and businesses should not start after high school. It should be infused into the community with alignment all the way down to early elementary.

Communities that align their pre-K to post-graduate work will be the communities that come out ahead despite widespread talent shortages.

Where do you Begin?

Workforce development is a dynamic, complex process that takes constant fine-tuning. It requires leaders in economic development, K-12 and higher education, the local business community, and of course workforce boards to be on the same page. And it needs to be integrated with strategies for housing, infrastructure, and other policies.

First, we recommend you take the time to know the strengths (and weaknesses) of your community and region. Knowing your strengths and comparative advantages requires looking at accurate economic and labor data. Which industries drive your economy and bring in outside dollars? Which occupations and skills are most important to those industries? Let data, rather than assumptions, inform your decisions.

Second, analyze your community’s most pressing needs. Do existing or potential businesses need 300 new workers right away? Are companies in need of additional workers six months to two months from now? Do you have available people and available jobs, yet a gap in connecting the two?

Answering these questions will determine the first steps in three of the most important things you can do for your community: attracting, developing, and retaining talent.


Download Emsi’s 3rd Annual Talent Attraction Scorecard for a full description of the findings and strategies. We have the data and expertise to help you win the talent race. Contact us to learn more.

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