Revaluing and reinvesting in people and homegrown talent

It is a cliché to talk of valuing people. Cities need to find ways of identifying, harnessing, nurturing, sustaining, attracting and promoting talent - wherever it is. The talent of its people are the city's main asset. Capitalizing and harnessing the creative potential of local people has to be the defining core of any city's reinvigora-tion. Their applied creativity generates the wealth and solutions that will drive the city on. Every department, whether public or private, should have a talent strategy. Every person can express their talent better. At one extreme a long-term unemployed person can become employable. Someone coasting in their job can become enterprising, so doing their job better. That person over time may become entrepreneurial and set up a business. Ideally they then become creatively entrepreneurial and develop innovations or become leadership figures.

Every city and region wants to attract more gifted and ambitious people. Some call this 'the war for talent'. Singapore's talent strategy to attract outsiders stands as an example of what many cities, regions and countries are trying to do.46 New Zealand47 and Memphis48 are two other examples; they also have a strong agenda to develop their domestic knowledge base. In essence they buy talent, perhaps a leading researcher and his or her team, or encourage a company to relocate. Singapore has also developed a notion of the creative city, whereby they seek to foster an environment where people want to come. They note that:

The future will nonetheless be very different from the past. In the knowledge age, our success will depend on our ability to absorb, process and synthesize knowledge through constant value innovation. Creativity will move into the centre of our economic life because it is a critical component of a nation's ability to remain competitive. Economic prosperity for advanced, developed nations will depend not so much on the ability to make things, but more on the ability to generate ideas that can then be sold to the world. This means that originality and entrepreneurship will be increasingly prized.49

Cities can attract outside talent to refresh their inner gills - and they have to - but most of all they need to achieve endogenous growth. I have no problem with migration, but simply want to refocus on tapping home grown talent as a parallel strategy. In my experience, in any city you investigate, there are many projects to tap hidden talent, but they tend to be one-off, short-term and uncoordinated.

In Adelaide, for instance, we calculated that, of its population of just over a million, perhaps 250,000 - a quarter - were underachieving. This is likely to be similar elsewhere. Some are desperately leading a life that drains both them and their city. Others may have merely missed out, and yet others don't quite reach the next step of aspiration or are just waiting for the right challenge to achieve more. If just 1 per cent of these people became transformed, they would represent the equivalent of 2500 qualified migrants in the Adelaide case; in London it would be 20,000. And if 1 per cent, why not 2 or 3? If all of us achieved 5 per cent more than we do already, this would equate to a hugely enlarged talent pool. Think of any large city or ghetto, from the US and Brazil to South Africa. The stark fact is that millions of younger people have basically dropped out or not recognized what they can offer. It reminds us of wasted talent.

Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class asks, 'What do talented people look for in a place?' According to conventional economic theory, workers settle in those cities that offer the highest paying jobs in their fields. However, Florida argues that people in the 'creative class', given their mobility and international demand for their talent, base their choices on wider considerations. They choose cities for their tolerant environments and diverse populations as well as good jobs. They want the critical mass of job opportunities in their field but look for places that suit their lifestyle interests, with attributes well beyond the standard 'quality-of-life' amenities. They seek an environment open to differences - places where newcomers are accepted quickly into all sorts of social and economic arrangements. They want interesting kinds of music, food, venues, art galleries, performance spaces and theatres. A vibrant, varied nightlife, indigenous street culture, a teeming blend of cafés, sidewalk musicians, small galleries, bistros and so on.50

What is true in attracting external talent also holds for inspiring and keeping local talent - they also want environments conducive to inspiration. There is a danger that if importing of talent is not combined with a home-grown talent strategy, disaffection and disenchantment could grow. Importing and overlaying ambitious newcomers into a setting where existing inhabitants have low expectations and aspirations can cause tension, as differences in achievement can create a 'have' and 'have not' divide.

To tap talent might mean being unconventional, reimagining, say, schools as different kinds of places, as centres of curiosity and imagination that are co-conceived in an equal partnership by kids, their parents, the teaching profession and architects. With these broader links to the community, a different spirit could emerge. It might mean reconceiving what a school is - less a factory for learning and more interwoven with daily urban life. It could mean that a travel agent might have a role in the geography class, a well-being centre acting as the biology class, or that kids teach asylum seekers language skills. This means rethinking who our teachers are and what the role of traditional teachers should become. Not everyone is equally talented, but everyone can tap into and express their talent more than they do. Some people, especially those with low expectations, often do not know they have talent simply because, for a variety of reasons, it has not been discovered.

A talent strategy seeks to address this problem. A useful device is to divide the talent-generating process into 6 components in terms of helping policy-making and defining projects. Each has different requirements and targets:

1 projects to help people become curious and interested - this is a precondition without which talent cannot be discovered;

2 initiatives to help people become work ready or employable;

clearly the role of cultural initiatives or arts programmes can help and has so far been underplayed;

3 programmes to help people become enterprising - the enterprise education agenda;

4 schemes to help people be entrepreneurial, such as by setting up a business;

5 projects to help people to 'self-actualize', from which unexpected potential may emerge and where cultural institutions or sports can again play a key role; and

6 creatively entrepreneurial initiatives that might lead to innovations and inventions.

Importantly, the talent agenda is not a strategy for education, although education should play a central role. It is integrated and should also involve an assessment of how economic or arts development and the programmes and activities of cultural institutions foster talent and how social affairs can connect to the agenda. The focus should not only be on statutory provision, but should also involve the activities of the private sector and voluntary bodies. The talent agenda is not only about youth, but also adults and members of the third age.

These processes will rekindle enterprise and the entrepreneurial - these are positive words, but we tend to regard what they mean in a narrow way, assuming too often they only apply to business people. There is a need to improve the image of being an entrepreneur, getting schools to bring in outsiders to teach these skills, getting the public sector itself to appreciate the virtues of entrepreneurial thinking, both in its own domain and elsewhere, and developing a range of affirmative devices, from competitions to prizes. Being entrepreneurial goes beyond being a business entrepreneur and applies equally to those working in social, cultural, administrative and political fields. It is a mindset driven by the ability to focus on creating opportunities and overcoming obstacles. Each city needs to remind itself of its enterprising history, for founding a city is a supreme act of entre-preneurship.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment