When Lumina Foundation President and CEO Jamie Merisotis brought his America Needs Talent perspective to Hartford last week, it was a three-dimensional homecoming.

Having grown up in Manchester, he got to get back together with his family here.  The next day at a working lunch, he captivated some 220 attendees interested in his linkage of K-12, higher education, and business and industry to develop talent.

There, he also found agreement, among a Who’s Who of Hartford leaders, that the only practical and permanent path to workforce development is deep partnerships with shared goals.

Mr. Merisotis, now leading the Lumina Foundation for Education based in Indianapolis, worked on the creation of Americorps and also for 30 years at the intersection of higher education, public policy, and philanthropy.  At Achieve Hartford!’s “Hartford Needs Talent” event, sponsored by Lincoln Financial Group at the Downtown Marriott January 25th, he raised – and provoked – very good questions about the two million unfilled open jobs in America right now, of which two-thirds require some form of post-high school education.

Cross-sector investments in internships, transportation, and online opportunities for learners are just a few of the keys that could unlock a second, consecutive American Century.

But that will take real work.  Here are some additional perspectives from CEO Merisotis:

  • Talent is much more than innate ability.
  • The five ways to get to a more talented society are:

Redesigning higher education to better serve today’s students;

  1. Unleashing private sector innovation to help meet education challenges;
  2. Redefining the public role, including such strategic moves as creating a U.S. Department of Talent;
  3. Re-imagining immigration so as to meet the nation’s talent needs; and
  4. Tapping into the tremendous potential of cities as “talent hubs”.

Elaborating, Mr. Merisotis spoke of talent hub cities that are very nice places to live, but advised that one city’s success at the expense of another will not solve America’s talent problem.  Instead, where leaders work together to offer multiple pathways to success for all sorts of people, cities can serve as successful talent hubs, he recommended.  Here is a Washington Monthly article on his points of emphasis.

In his remarks, Mayor Luke Bronin echoed the fact that there are far more unfilled positions regionally than those served in workforce readiness programs.  “Not to be contrary,” he said, reiterating his call for a local Youth Service Corps visible in neighborhoods, “but Hartford’s got talent – we need to get a lot better at connecting that talent.”

Hartford could move the needle – and quickly – if every sincere stakeholder were activated in supporting internships and job training.

After the mayor and CEO Merisotis laid out the challenges, Hartford Promise Executive Director Richard Sugarman moderated a discussion with four panelists: Hartford Consortium for Higher Education Executive Director Dr. Martin Estey, Hartford School Superintendent Dr. Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, Capital Workforce Partners CEO Tom Phillips, and Filomena and Company Principal George Thomson.  A poignant plea came from Mr. Thomson:  “We simply can’t find people. Not being able to find young people holds us back.”  He meant not just his firm, but regional manufacturers, too, he added.

Mr. Merisotis noted that, of 6.5 million jobs created between 2010 and 2015, 2.9 million were “good jobs” – and 2.8 million were filled by young people with bachelor’s degrees.  Contrast that with CEO Phillips’ estimates that some 23,000 youth regionally and 6,200 in Hartford are neither in school nor working.

The Bottom Line.  The enthusiasm among the public, nonprofit, education, and business leaders we convened last week was palpable and powerful.  Equally powerful was the desire for more action … and less talking.  The era of opportunity is right now for Hartford, where, through much closer and deeper collaboration, leaders across sectors can agree on both the causes of our economic struggles and the solutions needed to address them.

We also need commitments from business, to ratchet up workforce preparedness opportunities for young people, and advocates leading this work – to set bold goals and communicate progress publicly.  This requires a coalition of organizations that include the Hartford Public Schools, Capital Workforce Partners, the City of Hartford, the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, Hartford Promise, Achieve Hartford!, and both the already dedicated businesses, non-profits, and universities as well as newbies.  Much more to come on this topic, this work, and the very significant players at the table, including you.