Talent Finance: What We Learned and What Comes Next

A letter from Tom Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Raphael Bostic, President & CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Tom Donohue

Tom Donohue, CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Raphael Bostic, President and CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

We believe our nation should have an approach to financing talent development that is fit for our time, not one built for a different economy and era. The need couldn’t be more urgent.

Consider, for example, student debt—which is at an all-time high, with greater numbers of borrowers unable to repay their loans. The cost of education continues to rise even amid increasingly uncertain returns on that investment. Meanwhile, workers and job seekers have few options for improving and broadening their skills, and they often lack the money to take advantage of options that are available. Our economy and workforce were changing rapidly before the COVID-19 pandemic, and in-demand jobs have been changing just as fast. Those changes have been further accelerated by the pandemic, and many jobs have disappeared over the past few months with no guarantee that they are coming back. We must address these new challenges, as well as the longstanding issues inherent in our education and workforce systems, to create greater equality of opportunity in our society.

For all these reasons and more, the time to act is now. That’s why, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the Greater Houston Partnership, and WorkingNation launched Talent Finance, an initiative aimed at reimagining how we finance and invest in the development and upskilling of a competitive workforce. Critically, Talent Finance focuses on public-private partnerships to achieve these goals. The private sector should do what it does best—drive innovation and opportunity—and the public sector can leverage that innovation to provide better finance, investment, and risk management tools to our education system.

In recent weeks, we hosted five virtual events to examine how we might best finance talent development for the 21st century. We deeply appreciate the participation of our audience, a diverse group of business associations, employers, postsecondary education partners, financial service companies, state and federal agencies, philanthropic leaders, and more. We are grateful for the invaluable contributions of many friends and colleagues who joined us, including former FDIC chair Sheila Bair, former Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Western Governors University President Scott Pulsipher, and Society for Human Resource Management CEO Johnny Taylor.

From our series of events, we heard confirmation that the future of talent development must focus on public-private partnerships and solutions for financing and investing in opportunity while managing economic risks. Some other key takeaways included:

  • Participants are ready to move as quickly as possible to pilot programs and demonstrations that involve employer collaboration. Many saw the Chamber Foundation’s Talent Pipeline Management movement as one such initiative. It provides an opportunity to engage companies that are already working together, helping them better leverage their combined power to implement a shared finance solution for their talent pipeline needs.
  • As we begin seeding new pilot programs and demonstrations, we need to revisit HR accounting practices to reward companies for investing in their workforce—and build the necessary infrastructure to make those innovations widely replicable. This means working with public and private partners to assemble data that inform outcomes-based financing and aligning policy so that states can partner with the private sector on new talent finance innovations.
  • Most importantly, diversity, equity, and inclusion must be at the center of this initiative and all of our collective efforts. The talent finance approach we have long relied on has produced, at best, mixed and uneven results, particularly for low-income and historically underrepresented populations. By changing the way we finance and invest in talent, we can fundamentally change the talent marketplace to close race-based opportunity gaps and make our systems more equitable.

Raphael Bostic

In the coming months, the Chamber Foundation and Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta will share more content from the event series. We will also pursue research and promote best practices, profile emerging and successful partnerships, and connect partners wherever we can. If we work together—and work quickly—we can change the incentives and achieve better outcomes for learners and workers during this critical moment for our economy and into the future. If you were waiting for an invitation, well here it is: join us.

Read the Talent Finance white paper and watch the Talent Finance event series.

Learn more about Talent Finance and join the movement.