A key component of strong civic capacity is a robust pipeline for new talent.
Many smaller legacy cities are facing the dual challenge of population loss and an aging workforce. Other cities that have seen an influx of immigrant populations are struggling to incorporate young people from different cultural backgrounds into their leadership cohort. In either case, communities can approach the challenge of building a talent pipeline by engaging young people, particularly high school students, to give them a better sense of local opportunities.
Young people’s experiences will shape their long-term decisions about where they plan to put down roots. As noted in MassINC’s case study on leadership development in Worcester, Massachusetts, political science research has shown that lifelong patterns of civic engagement are set during youth. That is why multiple programs in Worcester, including the Worcester Youth Leadership Institute and the Latino Education Institute at Worcester State University, seek to engage young people from diverse backgrounds in civic life. These programs empower young residents to consider the impact they can have on their communities, while also exposing them to other emerging leaders from diverse backgrounds.
Other programs targeting young people seek to broaden their understanding of the kinds of employment opportunities that are available in their hometowns. In Lima, Ohio, the workforce development coordinating organization holds MakerFest, an annual “reverse job fair” for high school students to meet with local employers. In 2017, over 1,400 area high school students and 100 local employers attended the event, which includes skilled trades and STEM competitions for students to show off their abilities to employers. Students are exposed to local employment opportunities that they may never have considered, and employers have the chance to seek out young talent, some of whom are offered jobs on the spot.