Leaders in economic development can expect to discuss, adopt and deploy changes in the following 8 categories in the coming years. While COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement have unquestionably precipitated accelerated transformation in these categories, the truth is, many of these changes have been a long-time in the making.

  1. Technology will only become more pervasive in the global economy, regardless of industry. Do whatever it takes to skill your community in the broad-based technologies that are pervasive (data science, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity) and grow as many skilled humans in occupations that we know will continue to be in tremendous demand in all industries, i.e., data and cybersecurity analysts, software developers, systems managers, etc. Learn more from CompTIA about the most in-demand occupations.
  2. Equity in skills training and education is no longer a nice-to-have. Cities, businesses, non-profits and economic development leaders must take an all-hands-on-deck approach to re-skilling our students and adults and doing whatever it takes to include workers in all zip codes, of all ages and backgrounds. The future health of our economy depends on all citizens participating.
  3. Early education is also no longer a luxury. A decade ago, the STEM education conversations were about the importance of fifth and sixth graders gaining the math and science skills they needed to succeed. New data suggests that while middle school still remains an important on-ramp to STEM learning, ignoring early skills as part of the STEM learning continuum can be detrimental to students, communities and our economy long-term. 
  4. Community and technical colleges- this is your time. Pre-COVID, students had already started to slide away from the notion of taking on long-term debt. This is especially true when paired with ongoing uncertainty in the economy. This trend, combined with  increased industry demand for students with technical skills (accelerated by digital transformation), make for a magical opportunity. Your area of improvement? Industry partnerships. Sure, you have your industry advisory council but how engaged are industry leaders? What resources or assets are they bringing to the table? Attending the compulsory advisory board meeting is different than asking industry leaders to teach, different from offering mandatory high-intensity internship opportunities for minorities and different from contributing to scholarship funds that enable colleges to widen the inclusion circle. Hold industry to task for stepping up as an equal partner. Education is a public-private responsibility, not just a public one.
  5. Employers. See number 4. Far too few of you have truly been engaged or been held accountable for co-training our workers. Public institutions have been flying this plane solo for too long and while they’ve done their best, there is no match for the private sector stepping in to guide, teach, contribute and truly engage. 
  6. Four-year higher ed institutions should adopt all measures of humility and service and accelerate digital learning opportunities for all students. There is an increasing number of students for whom a four-year degree is unattainable let alone imaginable. Colleges need to wake up to our country’s changing demographics, industry’s rapidly shifting needs for more technically-skilled talent, and get to re-engineering programs to be more accessible, more affordable and more technical.
  7. Child care is now a national economic, not just parental, issue. Until a COVID vaccine is administered and students can return to school, child care becomes the challenge of not just parents but employers and cities alike. Employers and cities have to come together to develop creative, affordable solutions to child care until students return to school.
  8. And last but not least…broadband. It’s the new electricity, clearly. Those who are without it cannot be expected to learn, engage or contribute in the same manner as those who have proper connectivity.  More than 9 million (!) students lack internet access for learning at home. And while efforts are underway in large markets (Chicago, Dallas) to provide broadband to all students, there is a still a long way to go.

As you can see, much of this work has historically been carried by long-standing, stable institutions (government, higher education, economic development). But those institutions are being rocked by COVID, Black Lives Matter and digital transformation—each of which will have its own impact but collectively represent an unparalleled opportunity for us to work together to make lasting change—change that will impact us into the next number of decades. Thankfully, I think we’re all ready.

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