The St. Louis region is heading for one of its most impactful economic moments in decades. As a region, we need to ensure that government and commercial organizations have the talent pipelines needed to remain globally competitive. On June 23, 2020 the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership (SLEDP) led GeoFutures committee released a full report on how the region can successfully navigate growth of the Geospatial industry in the region. Aspects of the report focused heavily on K-12 education and workforce development as key components to a successful Geospatial industry cluster. This region includes some of the best and brightest minds attending higher education institutions that are leading in science and technology. However, there is a demographic of young minds that are just as bright and capable who lack opportunity awareness, social support, and have rampant barriers to entry that could potentially prevent them from having access to the academic and career pathways that could make St. Louis the Geospatial hub of the world.
We need a strategy that meets young people where they are and equips them with the tools needed to be successful. We also need to think differently and consider the circumstances of the people that need to be included before executing a plan. In 2019, high school students and parents within the St. Louis Promise Zone were asked in a survey what they believed they needed to be included in opportunities in the coming Geospatial cluster. Ninety three percent of parents said that it was important to them that their children be trained for technology-based jobs that would be created as a result of the new NGA West. In addition, 65% of the students said that they would be more likely to complete a college degree program if they could gain skills and start earning while they learn in their field of study. This means that talent pipelines in Geospatial and converging sectors like AI, IoT, and Cybersecurity could have a more robust and diversified talent pipeline if under-resourced students had alternative pathways into academia and the workforce.
Thinking more innovatively about how we identify and cultivate young, latent American talent is not only a matter of remaining globally competitive in industry but also a matter of National Security. Here’s what we should do to assure that we don’t miss the mark of full inclusion in the region’s global Geospatial hub:
- 1- Meet under-resourced youth where they are and work together to create programs designed around the integration of education and workforce development.
- 2- Build strategic alliances between schools, workforce organizations, and industry that have practical pathways and support outcomes for young people who need to put work first.
- 3- Develop robust programming that can be used in high schools and incorporate Geospatial pathway planning into course sequences.
- 4- Offer courses that go beyond high school credits by awarding stackable credentials that lead to entry level work experience.
- 5- Employers: Practice flexibility and open year-round apprenticeships in addition to summer internships.
What we need is a collective strategy that is innovative, not just in its execution, but in its methods for cultivating talent. I’m optimistic that we can do it. The region is ready.