How do we grow talent in Adelaide?

Good things happen when cities grow. Public services like libraries, hospitals and schools flourish, not for profit organizations emerge to build social and human capital, businesses form to serve the needs of groups in the community, and infrastructure – public and private – means a reliable pipeline for professionals, financial services, constructors, suppliers and trades.

Conversely, failure to grow can be a sign of an underlying stress, and can result in the scaling back of services, business failure, infrastructure decay and accelerated decline. Just as communities can grow, communities can shrink. Witness Detroit.

It’s clear the key challenges to growth over the next five years are the general economic situation, the need to innovate and attracting the right skills and talent.

We may not be able to influence the general economic situation but we can choose to innovate, and act decisively to attract the right skills and talent. Enterprise, innovation and growth all rely on finding the right people – talented, passionate people who want to take a stake. And good people are pulled, not pushed, to places. Adelaide’s challenge is to ‘pull’ the best people to be a part of the Adelaide experience.

Experience shows that good growth can grow our quality of life, attract and retain good people and support enterprising business as well. Earnings increase along with the quality of life. In 1977, Adelaide’s sister city of Austin, Texas had an average income that was well below the national average, but by 2007 average income exceeded the national average. Small cities can grow their cultural and economic base, enhance their global reputation and become magnets for talent. Its unemployment rate is also well below the national average, despite the recent financial crisis. Like Austin, Adelaide must grow, and we must grow in the right way.

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Adelaide’s social capital; let’s leverage a lazy asset

It’s often said that while the rest of the world can be explained by six degrees of separation, Adelaide can be described in two. This goes to the heart of the Adelaide experience. Whether in business, politics, or our home lives, Adelaide’s social ties are our strength. These ties are an asset yet to be fully leveraged. Our intrinsic social capital is a powerful differentiator among capital cities losing their sense of ‘civic’.

Social capital is a concept that describes not only the structure of our relationships but also their quality. Social capital is a term used to refer to those bonds that build trust as a basis for working productively together, to build outcomes of mutual benefit. In other words, creating value that is between people and organisations. It’s the glue that allows people to work together, not in isolation.

Social capital exists in an active network of dense social ties; with diverse backgrounds and social experiences among the members of the network. Social capital helps communities get by, get ahead and marshall the resources they need to do things together. Building social capital can help community-level support networks to grow; avoiding the need for institutional responses from government and freeing those resources for other purposes. High levels of social capital also reflect in higher productivity, better employment opportunities, better job matching and greater satisfaction in employment.

Difference and diversity are important. Strong social ties that remain too local can be counter-productive. A more overt focus on building Adelaide’s social capital is an essential ingredient to a deeper, more resilient labour market that leverages our unique quality of life.

In a world where economic activity is based on the quality of relationships, Adelaide’s unique scale allows close and immediate relationships. Building our social capital is the foundation for innovation, creative collaboration and incubation. Adelaide can be Australia’s ‘social capital’. But first we must arrest the flight of talent from South Australia.

Arrest the flight of talent

In 2011, 2,909 more residents left South Australia than arrived. Between 1999-2009, there was a nett loss of 32,000 people. But our real challenge is who we’re losing. A study by Professor Graeme Hugo profiles the typical South Australian leaving the state; young, well educated with a preference to settle in the eastern states where there are greater employment opportunities. In fact almost half of all those moving from South Australia were aged between 20-39 years.

Overwhelmingly this cohort represents the skilled knowledge workers essential to transition our economy from its agricultural and manufacturing past, to the knowledge-intensive, value-added economy where growth is highest.

This is critical for viable labour market, because with a rapidly ageing population and a birth rate below replacement, questions are being asked about where the future South Australian labour force is going to come from.

For people to stay, they need the opportunity for employment in a growing labour market. But we are part of a global economy and we must compete for talented people by growing the right jobs. From 1990-2000, 21,500 jobs were created, reflecting a period of sustained recession for South Australia and the nation. But between June 2000-2010, around 130,000 jobs were created. The jobs we grow must be matched to the people we need. Skilled, creative and enterprising people drawn from here and overseas. The challenge is now dealing with new rounds of unemployment and a greater need for retraining.

Mobility is healthy. It’s not possible or desirable to prevent mobility but it is possible to ensure there is a reason to stay, return or come here for the first time. So can we turn this outflow of talent and potential to our advantage? Can we leverage the networks of those who have left? The answer is yes.

EcoCaddy is the sustainable personal transport company focussing on providing quick and convenient commuting options within the four terraces of Adelaide and up the hill to postcode 5006! It launched this year.

Leverage talent wherever it is

It seems we have been happy to whinge for two decades at the export of young talented professionals, but we are yet to view expatriates as a serious public policy question, or a serious asset to leverage.

Do we give South Australians living interstate and overseas the chance to remain meaningfully engaged? Should we see this cohort as active participants in the civic conversations, public policy debates and big economic questions that face us? What would it mean to leverage the South Australian diaspora?

Drawing on work for the Australian Government who asked these same questions in 2003 of our national diaspora, a number of useful initiatives can be applied at a state level to make it easier for expatriates to retain a stake in South Australia, and increase the likelihood of returning at some point in the future.

Initiatives that can be adopted by South Australia include;

  1. better include our diaspora in the cultural life of the state by encouraging the expatriate community to identify with and be involved in events, decisions and milestones;
  2. increase the strength of linkages between our diaspora and the state; especially in business and research linkages;
  3. increase the involvement of the diaspora in the state economy, boost incentives for expatriates to invest in South Australian activity like saving their foreign exchange in local institutions; transferring their superannuation or their assets back to South Australia on return.
  4. In a knowledge economy, people are assets. Wherever they live and work. In a highly mobile, globally connected economy, it no longer makes sense to exclude expatriates because they fall outside our state border.

Attract the best from everywhere

Skilled migration plays a important role in the importation of new knowledge, and its transfer to locals. Skilled migration also plays a role in ensuring services to regional and remote areas of the state. So why does Adelaide have only 1.1% of Australia’s skilled (457) migrants? Evidence suggests that while we have high rates of skilled migrant inflow, these migrants are not settling in Adelaide but moving to centres with higher growth and better opportunities.

Almost half of all skilled migrants in South Australia are former international students of our universities, so todays overseas students are an important source of Adelaide’s skilled workers of tomorrow. We need programs to convert overseas students to long-term residents and view today’s students as valued citizens integrated into our everyday. We also need to invest in showing the SA offering to overseas markets in order to attract investment.

Adelaide is currently a ‘gateway city’ acting as a threshold for skilled migrants intending to move on. Put simply, we attract skilled migrants due to policy drivers intended to boost our lower rates of growth, but we fail to capitalise on this pool. We need to better understand why this is the case.

We must accelerate the emphasis on knowledge-intensive industries, and professional services operating in the global creative economy to attract and retain talent and skill.

The Royal Commission into SA’s role in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, along with the commitment to a carbon-neutral CBD are two such opportunities to be further explored.

Adelaide needs a deeper labour market

Healthy labour markets allow people to find work, and to move easily from work to home, from work to work, and work to home. To move people, goods and information well, we need a well functioning transport network that includes the full suite of transport options including safe and appealing walking and cycling, bus, tram and train that alleviates peak hour congestion, as well as private car and light vehicle options.

Adelaide’s transport system is not yet performing at the level required. In 2013, Adelaide drivers experienced 28% longer travel times, morning peak drivers experienced 50% longer travel times while evening peak drivers experienced 45% longer travel times.

Research by Griffith University confirms that Adelaide has the lowest public transport use for work trips, and the lowest per capita usage rates – having initially fallen behind Brisbane and more recently Perth. RMIT has labelled Adelaide Australia’s ‘car capital’, with the highest rate of car use among the capital cities. Adelaide missed out on the public transport revival that occured in other larger capital cities; public transport mode share stagnated, while both walking and cycling rates declined.

Well functioning transport systems efficiently and affordably manage the distribution of goods, the access of markets to labour, and the ease of people connecting with people. A poor transport network places barriers of cost, time and convenience in the way of people finding work, and businesses finding the right people. And it can act as a roadblock for those considering moving their business to Adelaide.

A well-functioning transport system is not an optional extra, it is essential to build a deeper labour market that fosters resilient economic development and the government must provide for necessary upgrades.

Infrastructure design and delivery is an economic imperative, and business must be invited to more actively partner in planning the state’s strategic infrastructure. This infrastructure includes roads, rail and ports, energy, water and waste, but also social infrastructure to enable better connected and self-reliant communities, and the green infrastructure that can transform urban environments with functional natural systems.

Adelaide’s urban growth, it’s economic development and continuing quality of life depend on more integrated planning of where people live and work, and how we get around.

So where do we start?

Bring our universities, business, government and communities together to develop a strategy that gives our young people the best opportunities here, and to better leverage our diaspora interstate and overseas.

The Strategy should include;

1. Develop a meaningfully engaged network of highly-skilled South Australian expatriates who can be matched with opportunities in Adelaide and to inform expatriates of relevant initiatives, developments and issues, and involve them in events and activities at a deeper level than generic email or online groups.

2. World-class incentives to encourage those who leave the state to retain their assets, holdings and capital here.

3. Together with the universities, build deeper and longer-term relationships with our international students, recognising their value as tomorrow’s trading partners, investors and advocates

4. Be the first state to initiate an integrated ‘Diaspora Action Plan’ linking expatriates to South Australian strength sectors, boost both formal and informal overseas exchange programs, offer greater opportunities for younger people to assume senior leadership positions, and a talent strategy to incubate our best.