↑ Return to Talent

Policy Responses

The challenges for regional policy makers have recently changed under the pressure of an increasing need for talent. Overall, regional wealth creation has become more knowledge intensive, more sensitive to local and global opportunities and challenges, and more reflexive. In addition, on-going trends towards urban agglomeration and concentration, often in polycentric forms, are deepening the divide between core, peripheral and intermediary spaces (‘non-core’). Such trends, in turn, pose specific local challenges of economic restructuring, population decline and other pressing social problems. And on top of that, socio-economic problems have been mounting, some of them prompted by economic crisis.

Over time, these challenges have prompted four main responses
1. Retention of (under)graduates from local educational institutions (especially but not exclusively higher education) by active labour market and housing & amenities policies (amongst others)
2. Attraction of graduates from elsewhere by active labour market, housing & amenities policies and the facilitation of (long-distance) commuting, supported by place-marketing
3. Encouraging re-migration of local citizens who moved out to study and work elsewhere.
4. Attraction of undergraduates by the establishment of graduate education institutions (like outposts from established university course)

The extent to, and the ways in which these approaches have been used in practice depends on two types of factors: socio-economic conditions and the local conditions of policy making and implementation.

Socio-economic conditions start with the basic positions of regions in the overall geography of economic activities and people. However, beyond that basic position, a much more complex geography emerges. Even when facing similar problems, regions manifest strongly different characteristics and face different circumstances. Regions differ massively in terms of size, social and economic profiles, etc. Some have a thriving university but are faced with a large outmigration of graduates; others are already facing the consequences of a shrinking population and ageing. Some regions are located at the heart of Europe with high levels of accessibility; others are located more peripherally but have important urban and natural assets. So while regions may roughly be mapped onto a spatial division of core, intermediary and peripheral regions, in more concrete assessments we should take this diversity into account.

Like socio-economic characteristics, the second set of local conditions bearing on policy making and implementation, manifest a strong variety. Five issues, in particular, are at stake.

The first issue concerns the general awareness amongst politicians, employers and society of the multiple aspects of the problem and associated remedies. How should the critical role of the highly educated be understood in general, and in the context of specific localities? How should we differentiate between different kinds of Talent, and how can we know which type of ‘highly qualified’ or ‘highly educated’ talent meets which kind of regional needs. The latter are, without exception, region and time specific.

The second issue concerns the different reasons and motives behind in and out migration of highly educated workers, and the way they apply to different regions. These processes are far more complex than just accessibility to jobs. Cultural amenities, secondary labour conditions, image of certain economic or educational sectors, quality of life, they all have their influence on the decisions of individuals or families to move or not to move. Only a good common and local understanding of these processes can lead to successful policies.

A third issue relates to the actual policy interventions that can be carried out, or that can be improved upon, in light of the four approaches to attracting talent as identified above. Many regions have implemented certain actions and policies to increase place attractiveness, but this generally happens in an ad-hoc manner, lacking a coherent strategic frame. To be successful, policy measures have to be carefully targeted to those fields where they really can have an impact and they need to part of a well-founded, comprehensive regional strategy. The latter should be based on a clear idea on what kinds of place attraction are pursued.

Fourthly, following from this, the attraction and retention of talent involves a role for place-marketing. Place-marketing has become an important policy both to increase and to promote place attractiveness. We want to look at how these campaigns look. What is their message? What effect can such programmes have? What are the costs for the regions? What links should be made with educational marketing, tourist marketing, events marketing, etc.? How should place-marketing be tailored to local circumstances? This bears upon many policy domains, such as housing, education, innovation, spatial planning, culture, etc.

The last issue is how to engage private partners and non-governmental organizations in the policy design. Universities are the first to be interested in attracting undergraduates and retaining them after graduation (e.g. through local networks of teaching staff). Business groups can work together in offering shared services and more diverse job opportunities to newcomers, and project developers could address the particular housing needs of certain niche groups.

There is, accordingly, no single road to successful regional development, no set idea on the role of talent in regional development, and no single formula on how to raise and mobilise talent. What we can do, at best, is making a roadmap showing how different problem definitions, policy approaches and instruments may fit into a highly varied and dynamic landscape of regional development. Then, we could explore how certain understandings and solutions can be attuned to specific regional settings. For our journey, we should acquire and develop the sensitivities to move through this landscape, refine our roadmap, and expand our knowledge of the ‘people’ dimension of regional economic development and how policies can serve to strengthen this by nurturing the right forms of ‘talent’.

To prepare this roadmap we elaborated case studies for the regions involved in the BUTTON project.