Talent Dividend Work

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For Chattanooga's economy, there's some good news and some bad news. 
The good news is that several of the region's large employers have been hiring over the past few years, including Volkswagen America, Amazon, Alstom, Wacker North America, Arysen Energy, and BlueCross BlueShield.
The bad news is that employers are struggling to find the talent they need to fill available positions. About 30% of adults in Tennessee hold a post-secondary degree, compared to about 37% of adults nationally.
But wait! There's more good news: Talent Dividend efforts in Chattanooga are bringing higher ed institutions and businesses together to solve the problem, make the region globally competitive, and build economic strength for the future. 
"What we've learned is that it's the combined energy of business and higher ed that's the key to a sustainable, quality workforce," says John Schaerer, liaison for Chattnooga's Talent Dividend Initiative. 
Chattanooga is bullishly building bridges between higher ed and the business community to reach adults ages 25 to 64 who have some college but no degree. They are also expanding their view beyond the Chattanooga MSA to a 16-county tri-state region that encompasses parts of Georgia and Alabama as well as Tennessee, where about 2,309,000 adults have some college and no degree.
To make their case, Chattanooga has called on CEOs of businesses to talk about the return on investment for tuition reimbursement programs and other talent development efforts, citing studies that show how employees with college degrees are more satisfied, motivated, and productive on the job. Educated employees are even healthier, Schaerer says, which poses another potential cost savings for companies. Chattanooga has also partnered with CAEL to help businesses provide prior learning assessments, counseling services for adult learners, certify training programs for college credit, and in some cases outsource the management of tuition reimbursement programs altogether. 
To get everyone on the bandwagon, Chattanooga has encouraged city and county governments to formally adopt resolutions in support of the goals of the Talent Dividend Initiative and is engaging local chambers of commerce to serve as regional planning committees. Because the Talent Dividend Initiative in Chattanooga is largely supported by volunteers, in-kind donations, and local fundraising, this grassroots buy-in is especially important. Creative work-arounds abound where big dollars do not: Doctoral students at the region's universities are conducting research on talent and workforce development, and the Talent Dividend Initiatve is pulling together focus groups that pair up representatives from business and higher ed to talk about supporting each other's needs. 
"They're small groups," Schaerer says, "but it's kind of like eating an elephant: one bite at a time."
Rather than supporting workforce needs by focusing on talent attraction, the ultimate aim of Chattanooga's Talent Dividend efforts -- beyond the $1 million Prize and the 2014 deadline -- is to cultivate the people who are already in the region, Schaerer says.
"I had a conversation with a provost who said: You can't get your arms around this group that has dropped out. They have nothing in common. I said: They have one thing in common. They all had the dream to complete a college degree, and we're trying to capitalize on that motivation," Schaerer says. "Therein lies the greatness of the people we have."

Source: John Schaerer, Chattanooga Talent Dividend Initiative 
Writer: Amy Elliott Bragg
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