Friday, February 20, 2009

Steal This Graduate

My kindred spirit in Atlantic Canada dabbles in the talent export paradigm of workforce development:

Astute readers will point out that I am being inconsistent. They will say I have strenuously advised against offering training programs for jobs that aren’t in New Brunswick. I called this being the labour market incubator for Ontario’s workforce.

And I still hold to that view - except in the area of migrant work. The large project construction industry is transient. It moves from project to project and the workers have a home base. That home base could be New Brunswick and they could be sending six figure salaries back here to be spent in the local economy. If there is going to be a migrant nuclear construction industry workforce, why not have some of it based out of New Brunswick?

Color me not-so-astute. I'll have to search his archives and discover the rationale against servicing other labor markets. I'm beginning to better understand how workforce development and economic development are often at odds. However, I contend that there is substantial interest overlap and that policy should cater to that common ground.

Energy is the "area of migrant work" in question, specifically the nuclear industry. The perceived benefit from educating people in New Brunswick to work at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh is a remittance flow. I have another model in mind: Denver.

Near Denver, in Golden (where Coors Brewing doesn't really tap the Rockies, but an aquifer underneath the plant), is the Colorado School of Mines (CSM). The analogy isn't perfect because Colorado has a vibrant energy economy, such as along the Western Slope and the school itself is a legacy of the mining boom that built many of the cities in the state. But there shouldn't be any doubt that CSM is more about building a global workforce than servicing the Colorado labor market.

Not coincidentally, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is also located in Golden. Colorado isn't banking on the remittance economy. Instead, the CSM spillovers (e.g. NREL) laid the groundwork for the attraction of the ConocoPhillips alternative-energy campus to the Front Range. The resulting green energy cluster should greatly benefit Colorado over the next few decades.

As I see it, the problem is just being a "labour market incubator" for one place, whether it be your backyard or Toronto. Train the local workforce to fill worldwide shortages. The fierce competition for talent will inevitably drive companies to, at a minimum, to co-locate near the source of the highly sought after graduates.

Pennsylvania colleges and universities shouldn't aim to serve only Pennsylvania enterprise. In today's world, that doesn't make any sense.

No comments: