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Geographical concentrations of
talent can be a boon for L&D,
says Ara Ohanian.


ccording to analyst fir...

Although such churn of personnel can be
disruptive, the overall effect is both to boost
each individual c...
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Geographical concentrations of talent can be a boon for L&D, says Ara Ohanian.

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  1. 1. TALENT HOTSPOTS Geographical concentrations of talent can be a boon for L&D, says Ara Ohanian. A ccording to analyst firm Deloitte, London is the world’s leading city for employing highly skilled individuals. It has about 1.5m knowledge workers in its population of some 8m. And they’re not all concentrated in the financial sector that London is so famous for. They are spread over 22 sectors, with the British capital apparently leading the world in 12 of these, including finance, certainly, but also including culture, publishing and digital media. New York, in contrast, has 1.2m of these highly-skilled jobs, Los Angeles far fewer at 784,000 – many in the entertainment industry – and Boston, despite being a hub for research and high quality education and thinking, only 425,000. Surveys come and go, but this one, with its detailed depiction of cities as hubs of highly-skilled workers, got me thinking. UNPREDICTABLE HOTBEDS What happens when cities and conurbations become hotbeds of talent like this? Inevitably, they attract more such people. Just as Los Angeles is a hub for film and television creatives, and San Francisco’s Silicon Valley is for tech entrepreneurs, other locations will in the future develop into hubs for particular industries – and not always in predictable ways. The British Midlands, for example, a small area in the centre of England, is home to 7 of the 11 teams competing across the globe in the specialist field of Formula 1 racing. An eighth, McLaren, is less than an hour away just south of London. That’s some concentration of talent. HOW DID IT ALL HAPPEN? It all started immediately after the Second World War. Engineers used to building light, high-powered aircraft suddenly had no outlet for their skills. They did have plenty of now unused airfields, though, one of which went on to become the UK’s home of Formula 1 – Silverstone. The area was also close to the British automotive industry, centred on Coventry. That generated an environment which demanded and supported a specialised skills base. While the British car industry is no longer a world leader in mass production, the concentration of skilled design talent remains. ‘Motorsport Valley’ is home to 3,500 companies, turning over £5bn of business and employing 40,000 people, 25,000 of which are engineers. According to some estimates, that’s 80% of the world’s high performance engineers. As national economies become increasingly specialised and knowledge-based, such concentrations of talent will become more and more common. The implications for the learning, training and talent professionals are profound. Developing the best First, imagine an organisation that has a range of employees with different talents. Among them will be those near-unique individuals like Apple designer Sir Jonathan Ive, responsible for the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and much more. Superstars like these can make a huge difference to a company’s performance. That sets the tone for the rest of the business, generating a real focus on talent. Everyone wants to be the next Jonathan Ive. Everyone wants to have the next Ive on their team – to recruit them, to find them internally or – importantly – to develop them. In an atmosphere like this, L&D cannot simply provide courses, it must be focused on developing talent in intimate relation with the business. That means working closely with operations and sales as well as with HR and recruiters, and that work will require L&D to lead challenging, consultative conversations as well as to demonstrate operational excellence. COMPETITION BREEDS SUCCESS Having everyone so close together is double edged sword. Talented individuals in the UK can move motor sport jobs without relocating – the competition is only down the road. In contrast, moving to Swiss-based Sauber-Ferrari is more of an upheaval. December 2013 Inside Learning Technologies & Skills 173
  2. 2. TALENT HOTSPOTS Although such churn of personnel can be disruptive, the overall effect is both to boost each individual company’s productivity and to attract even more talent into the hotspot. Once established, a thriving industry will then naturally produce an eco-system of related companies. People may move employer, but they tend to stay in the industry and in the area – think of the bustling diversity of Silicon Valley, with large companies, start-ups and support services all cheek-by-jowl. For anyone involved in talent, an increasing concentration of the people needed to run these companies can only spell opportunity, but of course the competition also extends to us. Individual L&D professionals will need to be at the top of their game to flourish. IT’S TOUGH AT THE TOP Not everyone can win a competition, though, and success is not permanent. As with the British motor industry, now restricted to a few, premium marques, inconsistent execution or a lack of innovation will inevitably lead to being overtaken by competitors. And this competitive landscape is more brutal, and faster changing, than ever in today’s internet-powered world. In this environment, the demand for skills in Learning and Development and for Talent Optimisation will be higher than ever. That’s good news. But to succeed L&D will need to change in three ways. THE CHALLENGE TO SUCCEED Importantly, in a fast-paced world where high quality skills are the difference between success and failure, the old, seasonal approach to L&D will fail. L&D must speed up its game. This does not mean moving 10% or 20% faster, it means a qualitative change in which L&D integrates with the talent function to serve the business with lasersharp focus and almost immediate impact. Secondly, and linked to this first point, there is no way that L&D and Talent Services (by which I mean everything from recruitment to Human Capital Management planning) can do this in isolation. The old world in which training existed separately to other functions, in its silo, is gone. L&D must not only engage with the business, it must sit with it. It must be in daily conversation with it, as a part of the business itself. And being part of the business alone will not suffice for L&D to deliver. A highly-skilled 174 Inside Learning Technologies & Skills December 2013 environment is an ecosystem where – like in Silicon Valley or Motorsport Valley – people are regularly looking for their next move. In fact, if they are good they may well be self-employed and part of the extended enterprise for a number of organisations. Likely, they may have more than one role in more than one organisation. They may be immigrants, or about to emigrate. For the organisations relying on their skills, Talent issues are forced to the very top of the agenda and retaining essential talent becomes vital. L&D will play a vital part not only in ensuring that key personnel are ready to do their work, but also in making it attractive for them to stay in place, because they can see a clear development path for themselves. This new world of work, revolving around millions of self-interested, highly-skilled individuals, is very different from the hierarchical organisations of the past. It is, however, one where L&D can play an outstanding part – if it is ready to broaden its outlook and its responsibilities. Ara Ohanian is a VP and GM for Infor.