Knowing Your Place — that place you call home — Part 3

Where have all our flowers gone? [Part 3 of a nine-part series]

In part 1(Local Fabrics) of this nine-part series we reviewed how conventional sector and demographic metrics do not entirely explain why some communities thrive and others decline. In part 2 (Connected With Success)we also checked the basics — the essential infrastructures that support our places — and recognised that digital connectivity should be designed for the future, not the past.

Another central issue for any community is the availability of talented people. Migration and the free flow of people is significant for UK communities no less than in other countries. In other (less peaceful) contexts these movements would be called ‘internal displacement’. Many communities find they are losing jobs and generations of local workers. At the same time, big cities are under huge pressure to grow ever faster. But, as pointed out in earlier writings, the Rural/City divide is not always as sharp as smart city advocates would have us believe.

Creating a Knowledge Workforce

Talented people will migrate towards places that generate more and better jobs. Other folk may find themselves ill equipped for new types of work — particularly in places where they prefer to live. The true costs of commuting, the winnowing out of services like health and education in places left behind and price distortions in housing markets, stem partly from top-down policy decisions but are now accentuated by major shifts in the nature of work.

For would-be thriving communities, creating and retaining a ‘Knowledge Workforce’has become a major issue. This is not simply about the quality and relevance of universities. It’s also about practical and vocational education and re-education, training and retraining, at all levels and for all ages. Nor is it only about public-sector provisions — businesses have huge challenges as their skills requirements change to take advantage of new technologies and shifting business landscapes. Many old repetitive jobs can be replaced by automation — releasing human resources that can (if reskilled) be turned to more valuable, more rewarding, but more challenging tasks. And some of those jobs can (with effective connectivity) be located in places previously discounted.

Ignoring these challenges — not understanding the potential wholesale destruction of local prosperity — is sometimes brought into sharp focus by unexpected disruption to major employers. If a community is very dependent on employment in one industry the pain of a single factory closure demands urgent action. Is it really necessary to wait for a disaster to strike?

The alternative, however, is not easy. Investing in people for new types of work in enterprises that don’t yet exist or are untested and inherently uncertain, can only be driven by local leaders with long-term confidence and convening power– that ability to bring together employers, citizens, public and commercial services to create clear plans for a future that grows, retains and attracts talented knowledge workers.

Fortunately, there are many examples of place-based initiatives in this arena. Readers will not be surprised to know that many of the 159 places studied in depth by ICF over the past 17 years can fuel the imagination of communities who need inspiration.

· How is your local community responding to these challenges?

· Will your place attract new young families and create new job opportunities?

· How much does your community value these incoming investors?

Throughout the 3-day Intelligent Community Forum next June delegates will hear from leaders who have not only geared up for the future but have also worked out how to weave the skills threads into the wider fabric of their communities.

Altogether Now’ (Part 4 of the ‘Knowing Your Place’ series) will focus on local plans for ‘digital equity’, the inclusiveness that ensures that some people are not inadvertently ‘left behind’. It will be published on April 26th.

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