Tapping into talent – the cities of the future

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The policy examples from this article is under the spotlight during the OECD Local Development Forum, which took place in Cork, Ireland, on 15-17 June 2022. This event was organised as part of the Local Employment and Economic Development programme (LEED) Programme, which marked its 40th anniversary this year. Since 1982, the mission of LEED has been to create good jobs in great places.

In today’s world, the certainties of yesterday are no use to face the challenges of tomorrow. The various systemic shocks of recent years, such as the 2008 financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, or the war in Ukraine, have resulted in a disfigured world. We now need to respond with new approaches and alliances to respond to the digital transformation and the climate emergency. Our cities will be central to that response.

New world, new challenges

This is especially true in navigating the future of work. Technological advances are fragmenting labour markets, leaving many workers struggling with insecure forms of work and limited routes for progression in pay and prospects. Yet new ways of creating value and job opportunities are also emerging. New realities that coexist with traditional ones, generating new fractures and tensions.

The new economy is characterised by greater professional mobility and radical flexibility. The arrival of the “economy on demand”, that is, having access to what you want, when you want and where you want, generates a need for companies to draw on a flexible workforce to manage demand peaks. Matchmaking via platforms renders the traditional forms of labour relations obsolete, generating new problems for which we are not prepared.The power balance has changed: the advent of digital platforms risks concentrating power –with winner takes all dynamics – moving us towards a model of increased job polarisation and inequality. On the one hand, high-skilled and well-paid jobs at the top of the pyramid, and on the other, low-skilled and poorly paid jobs, poor prospects and fragmented working lives and incomes. How then can cities offer security in an uncertain world?

The city of Barcelona attempts to stay on-top of the ever-changing digital sphere by offering free digital training meant to boost digital talent via the Cibernàrium programme, beginning in 1999.

Talent is the new oil

One of the answers lies in the massive commitment to training new talent, especially in cities. Talent is the new oil, and the anchor for new investments. We are witnessing a paradigm shift in which companies follow the talent and not the other way round. And talent is increasingly concentrated in cities that offer that talent what it wants.

If talent is the new oil, all cities must find ways of bringing it to the surface by doubling down on their investment in skills. Their approach needs to be agile. Experts tell us that 60% of the jobs that will have to be filled in a decade have not yet been invented. Contributing to the employability of our citizens from the cities requires offering rapid responses adapted to the needs of the labour markets with new skills and abilities. Winning the battle for the future of work will require smart specialisation strategies based on visionary leadership and alongside public-private partnerships implement that vision and generate a virtuous circle of new value generation.

Cities must thus become true learning communities to promote and guarantee the employability of their citizens. But they have to do more than invest in skills. They must attract and retain talent too. Cities have to be pleasant and healthy places to live and work, that is, a connected city, with quality of life and efficient public services. Is your city one of them?


Read more on the OECD Work on the Future of Work.

Commissioner at City Promotion of Barcelona | + posts

Commissioner of City Promotion of Barcelona is responsible for economic promotion and Barcelona branding. Extensive experience in the institutional and corporate affairs, has been director of global relations for Digital Future Society at the Mobile World Capital Barcelona Foundation, General Director of Llorente & Cuenca for Panama and Cuba, the Communication, Reputation and Public Affairs Consulting, General Director of the Magtel Group in Morocco and the MENA region, executive advisor at the Secretary of State for the EU of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Span and technical advisor at the European Parliament. He has a Master's in Business Administration and undergraduate studies in political science. Author of books and publications, including "The Republic of Reputation: Economy, Power and Emotions" (2019) or "The Energy of the Small: Democracy, Technology and Territory" (2012). It was First Prize on "European Union and green growth" in the 2012 European Blog Contest organized by the Danish Presidency of the European Union.