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Lessons from across the pond: could regional talent hubs create a 'Big Society'?

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19th Oct 2011
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The Government is missing out on a powerful online tool for regenerating communities.

Since his famous ‘Big Society’ speech in July 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron and the Coalition government have both been looking for ways to deliver on the vision outlined. With the Cabinet Office tasked with transforming this relatively abstract idea into real policies, the need to find solutions that “put power in people’s hands” and deliver us “more freedom, more choice and more local control” - despite the still-uncertain economic climate – is the order of the day.  At the heart of the ‘Big Society’ ideology is the notion that local communities become empowered to help reverse these changes. So what do people want to see? More bus routes, better provisions for youth clubs, shorter hospital waiting lists, perhaps? Actually, at the centre of every community is its job market. The Work Foundation's influential 1999 study, for instance, found a crucial factor in determining how local economies have been affected by a crisis is the strength of the local labour market, coupled with the skills profile of the resident population. Empowering communities  So that seems to suggest that if the ultimate vision is about empowering communities to affect change, then enabling citizens to revitalize their local job markets is integral to its success. But it’s a tactic that hasn’t yet been fully attempted yet on this side of the pond. US experience provides a tantalising glimpse of what could be achieved here, however. There, local state governments have implemented a series of initiatives that have helped manage regional talent and job opportunities using focused, custom career websites. The Kentucky Indiana Exchange Project, for example, provides local employers with a pipeline of ready and trained talent in the region allied with an ability to post job opportunities for free. Sites like this also draw on multiple data sources to provide job seekers with information about relevant jobs, educational opportunities and insights into the local job market. More than a jobs site, it’s a true online community hub that offers information about local jobs related events, news, an interactive map and links to relevant government websites. The hub also provides a discussion forum for community members focused purely on professional development and business prosperity.  And it’s not just regional communities that are taking this approach. The US government uses similar technology to manage military employment opportunities and plug employment gaps in the US army – check out Military.com. This site has become so popular that it now also offers support to veterans too. Online approach  (I should declare my interest here - my company works with all 50 US states and scores of cities and counties to create locally relevant online resources that benefit both regional employers and jobs seeks.)  In the UK, the Government is starting, slowly, to use the internet to offer services aimed at empowering local communities. With people using online resources to manage all aspects of their lives – their banking, shopping, holiday booking etc – they now expect all government services to be online too. In the same vein, they expect that, when the Government delivers on a vision to empower communities, they will deliver this online, at least in part.  Key learnings from the US show us that this online approach to promoting job opportunities, filling the skills gap and rejuvenating a community works. It works because it does exactly what Cameron outlined in that landmark speech: “put power in people’s hands.”  With small and medium-sized enterprises accounting for 99.9% of enterprises and 59.1% of private sector employment in the UK according to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, this type of solution would be just as relevant here. It also offers a concrete step in the right direction towards that much bigger vision, I am convinced.   Andy Ramsay is director of government solutions at online recruitment firm, Monster.com.

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