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NRW, Ostwestfalen-Lippe

Ostwestfalen-Lippe (OWL),shares some key characteristics with Twente. It is an area with several medium-sized cities located at considerable distance from major urban agglomerations, such as the Ruhr area, Bremen-Oldenburg or Hannover-Wolfsburg. It has some important educational institutions, vocational and in applied sciences. The area manifests little attractiveness to workers from outside, while substantial numbers of the own population migrate elsewhere, resulting in a negative skill balance. The relatively low attractiveness is, to a large extent, taken for granted. The region sees as the key challenge the nurturing and holding on to its own talent and talent-to-be. In its ‘strategic action’ paper, one of the core organisations promoting local economic development, the OWL Marketing Foundation identifies three core sets of aims:
1. To stir young people’s interest in what are called ‘future‐oriented sectors’, to prevent dropouts from vocational and higher education, and young skilled workers to the region
2. To create a transparent situation of the demand for skilled people; development of appropriate human resources development strategy and to turn SMEs into attractive employers
3. To raise the qualification and employment level of employees in general, and to use of the potential of qualified personal, notably women, more effectively.

The emphasis of ‘future-oriented sectors’ is double faced. On the one hand, the region support various cluster initiatives, notably in health and biomedical sectors. Matching the important role of SMEs (Mittelstand) in Germany’s economic development, and in maintaining its innovative potential, clustering presents an important policy approach across the country. Clustering also fits the German emphasis on strategic collaboration. In addition to the representatives from local government, business, education and trade associations, collaboration also involves an important role played by labour union.

The main mechanisms for pursuing the aims with respect to labour market, and the role of SMEs, are internships and traineeships. The latter consists of dual training trajectories that include education-based and on-the-job learning, and accommodation of work and family needs, and the provision of employment services for job-seekers (people) as well as skill-seekers (firms). Comparable to Twente, these initiatives entail close collaboration between public and private agents. While this collaboration has important strategic components, it also extends to the operational level of projects and practices. This maps, in particular, onto the dimensions of education policies and measures, as well as business support, with a contribution made to innovation at a more applied level.

The third point manifests the strong role of social agendas developed and pursued in the region. In addition to the gender aspect already mentioned, there is also substantial interest in the improvement of the position of minority groups, and to develop age-sensitive approaches. Many strategies and projects are geared towards family life, including work-life balance, and the accommodation of double-earning families.

Policy structure
OWL is a regional authority at the level of ‘Bezirke’. This is the level of regional governance, between municipalities and counties on the one hand, and the ‘Länder’ on the other. The status of Bezirk facilitates the creation of structure of communication between different societal domains, strategic vision and resource mobilisation. Actual policy making, however, depends very much on the instruments and facilities developed at the local, national and federal level, comparable to the other regions under study here.

Policy domains
Overall, OWL is an area rich of policy initiative geared to improving the regional economy. Nevertheless, like in the Twente case, there is no singular ‘talent’ agenda, but a multitude of initiatives and projects featuring the role of people in the regional economy. This is also due to the fact that many projects emerge in a bottom-up way, often in response to policy competitions and tendering, and competitive grant provisions. What surfaces at a strategic level, above all, is the importance of nurturing talent aimed at future oriented sectors, aligning the economic interests of the region with the social interest of people and families. Examples are a focus on women, ethnic groups and SMEs. And the prevention of dropouts. Attracting talent from outside only plays a secondary role.)