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Growing Together: University-Industry Partnerships for Regional Talent Development

July 24, 2023 — Talent development is pivotal in shaping a community’s economic success and growth. With an increasing focus on supporting regional ecosystems, universities and companies – both large and small – are investing more resources to strengthen talent pipelines and collaboration. Through partnerships and joint initiatives, U-I collaborations can bridge the gap between academic knowledge and the workforce skills that industry desires, equipping students with the expertise and competencies to excel after graduation.

Matching needs

Aligning university and industry goals around talent strengthens existing partnerships, but understanding regional workforce needs more broadly is also crucial to ensuring that academic efforts effectively address knowledge gaps. Local industry is fertile ground to build talent-focused partnerships, not only because of geographic proximity, but also to better understand the regional industrial ecosystem. Local partners can offer direct insight into local job markets, growing regional interests, and more.

Collaborating with local nonprofits and government agencies can also help identify workforce needs and gaps and the regional differentiators that can attract and keep talent local. Understanding community needs—both current and future-oriented—ensure actions can be tailored so everyone reaps the benefits of human capital. Major metropolitan areas and areas outside of them are going to have different needs; understanding your region’s unique challenges is vital to develop talent regionally. This proactive approach helps universities produce career-ready graduates and allows industry to actively develop their future workforce, ultimately contributing to economic well-being.

Opportunities for development

Once goals are established, the real work can begin. Companies and universities can work together to implement talent development programs, either through tailored educational curricula or experiential learning. Universities can collaborate with partners in curriculum development to align class content with industry needs, upskilling future workers with current practices and tools they need to succeed. In a survey of UIDP member organizations, 68% of respondents indicated that their company or their university’s corporate partner participated in curriculum development. Internship and apprenticeship programs also offer opportunities for students to gain real-world experience while helping participating companies achieve workforce goals. I

Industry-sponsored research projects are another way for students and faculty to gain not only research experience, but also exposure to industry processes. High-performing graduate students in sponsored research projects are often recruited to continue as researchers in partner industry settings.

Several government programs also exist that can be leveraged to support talent development. The National Science Foundation (NSF) S-STEM program supports universities to fund scholarships for low-income students, allowing for opportunities to support their recruitment, retention, and graduation in STEM. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health offers individual, institutional, and project-related grants to develop a strong workforce of biomedical researchers, while the Department of Defense’s DoDSTEM supports programs, competitions, internships, and fellowship opportunities to cultivate a skilled STEM workforce.

Mentorship and career development programs also feed the talent pipeline. Mentoring fosters personal connection and networking within industry, strengthening the soft skills required for future employment. Industry software programs and technology-focused workshops can introduce students to industry-specific skills companies seek in their workforce. In another UIDP survey, 94% of respondents from member companies said that formal industry experience was either extremely important or important for college students seeking a full-time job after graduation. Although employers consider short, informal experiences less valuable than an internship or co-op experience, career fairs and industry presentations on the university campus also provide a platform to introduce students to potential employers and allow companies to connect with talent and highlight key professional roles.

A holistic view of talent development is crucial in shaping the success of a region. Keeping skilled, work-ready graduates in the region feeds the innovation pipeline and adds perspectives that can invigorate the local economy. Local businesses can take advantage of a well-prepared workforce, leading to increased investment in the area and even more economic growth, which then draws more people and students to the universities, leading to more funding and more opportunities for the institutions in the region. These impacts are built on a capable talent pipeline and intentionally built talent development programs, all eventually contributing to a stronger, more prosperous region.

Why it matters

Innovation ecosystems and regional development have become topics of high interest in universities, industry, and government agencies. Talent development is a major factor in economic development that can be instrumental in creating thriving ecosystems. Understanding steps that can be taken to drive these programs can empower more regions to invest in their talent pipelines and their local ecosystems, driving innovation and discovery everywhere.

We want to hear from you. Does your organization partner to further talent development in your region? Let us know on our LinkedIn profile.

The 3-Minute Read is a UIDP member information piece and does not represent the opinions of our members or representatives. We welcome your comments on our LinkedIn profile.