We are all looking toward a sense of normalcy after the past year. Vitality, productivity, and economic stability all feel palpable — and possible. Communities, both large and small, are currently considering budgetary decisions with a strong lean towards the future to avoid recently experienced fiscal pitfalls. Often we already have the answers to address our needs right under our own noses. And while many are looking for the next big thing, which may or may not gain traction, I suggest turning the gaze toward building upon successful and proven education and workforce initiatives.

At Thomas P. Miller and Associates, we have always considered talent to be the most important component of economic development. This focus was seen as innovative at the time we started in the late 80s. The job market is evolving, and skilling up our workforce is increasingly important. In a recent study by the Brookings Institute, cities with tech innovation centers were observed to be quickly outpacing regional counterparts without them. This is one of many reasons we have launched a national survey to explore the rural recovery. The differentiator in the Brookings study appears to be the existence or lack of educational funnels that build a tech workforce.

We are inside the next wave of Industry 4.0, which encompasses technology, automation, data, and smart solutions. Many communities are falling behind in their efforts to create ecosystems to prepare the workforce for this transition. The new tranches of funding provided by the federal government are aimed at addressing these gaps, but with little guidance– communities are left to fend for themselves and, due to a number of competing and conflicting interests, many are unfortunately unaware of the resources in their own backyard.

The company that sponsors the tallest building in downtown Indianapolis, Salesforce, expects to create 4.2 million jobs within its ecosystem worldwide through 2024, adding $1.2 trillion in new business revenues to local economies. It’s hard to conceptualize that many jobs within the next three years. A time frame of three years used to be too tight of a turnaround time for individuals to pivot into a career, yet with the agile approach to tech, which is a trade, there are fast pathways to meet this demand. Salesforce is only one of many examples of a company shooting up the flare to attract attention to their rapidly, even exponentially, expanding career opportunities. If we factor in other companies that are also expanding, we discover that the desired skill set is tech in one form or another.

According to The World Economic Forum, AI and automation will displace 75 million jobs — and create 133 million new ones by 2022. This is months away!

Schools such as Ivy Tech Community College, Vincennes University, and many others have accelerated programs designed to meet workforce demand. The immersive coding boot camp Eleven Fifty Academy was created by Scott Jones, who perhaps understands the future demands of technology more intimately than just about anyone on the planet. The demand for software development, web development, cybersecurity, market research analysis, database administration, and app development are all experiencing exponential growth. The offerings from Eleven Fifty enable someone to transform their life and their career path towards tech within twelve to fourteen weeks.

Additionally, funding for educational credentials has never been easier. One simply needs the desire for skilling up into a new career, especially here in Indiana, where our state and local governments, as well as our economic development leaders, have made funding a tech education a nearly flawless process. Counties and local economic development organizations should take a hard look at investing in their people via a tech education for the future. This is where you discover the foundation for sustainability.

Another gem of our state that covers manufacturing jobs, which we have historically coveted in our long-term economic development plans, is 180 Skills. With the changes and challenges of technology, individuals in the manufacturing sector are consistently faced with the need to learn new skills. Headquartered in Indianapolis, 180 Skills has the world’s largest library of online skills training for the manufacturing and logistics sectors. With more than 800 courses in its library, the company is transforming the manner in which employers create, grow, and retain skilled workers. Access to the 180 Skills library is free to all Hoosiers and all Indiana employers as a part of the state’s Rapid Recovery program. Since the launch of the program in June 2020, 180 Skills has tracked learner completion rates averaging 82%, and more than 110 Indiana companies are using the platform for new hire and incumbent worker training. The program will be available to Indiana employers and residents until June 30, 2022.

Encouraging all individuals by helping them to see the possibilities for potential careers should be a focal point for any community-building efforts. As programs like 21st Century Talent Regions and the recently created READI program take off, it is important that communities not lose sight of the opportunity to build a strong and successful foundation. The current funding situation is a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity for communities. Funds should be spent thoughtfully and with a long-term payoff in mind. The payoff is a legacy we should be proud to leave.

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Thomas P. Miller is President & CEO of Thomas P. Miller & Associates (TPMA).

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