Developing Talent One Person at a Time

The statistics are hard to dispute. Quoting an article posted last September in The Hill, "We have millions of open jobs, so where are the people to fill them?", author Jacqueline Vargas references BLS indicating that there are over 6 million job openings in the United States at the same time there are 7 million unemployed. To solve our employment problem, we don’t need to create more jobs; we need to develop talent to take on the jobs available, while simultaneously preparing for the jobs of the future. This will require a paradigm shift for leaders in government, education and industry and a willingness to break some molds. As I was doing presentation research, I came across an article in Forbes from 2012 by Mike Myatt (@MikeMyatt), "The One Reason Leadership Development Fails"; I especially loved his quote: “Training focuses on best practices, while development focuses on next practices.” Isn’t this still true today? Can anyone argue that we have made meaningful progress on the “training” front in the last five years?

As a result of my years spent building Fixed Income Academy, I have developed an interest in the problems caused by an ill-equipped workforce and lack of succession planning, especially in the public sector. FIA has been innovating online financial education and certification since 2011. Through that experience I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing people. Every person on the FIA management team is a dedicated educator, fully committed to the mission, and I am humbled and proud to work with each and every one who has contributed time and talent to advance the cause.

As a result of working with public agencies for close to 30 years, and because 60% of FIA graduates are employed by governments, I'm familiar with the unique challenges in public finance departments. Research from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence states the average age of a government finance professional is 52 years old, a full decade older than individuals performing similar roles in the private sector. Anecdotally, we hear about new retirements every day. On the other end of the spectrum, I enjoy hearing success stories when the light bulbs get brighter for up and coming “millennial” investment officers. However, training tools are only a small piece of an enormous, multifaceted puzzle. And while I echo calls for coordination and collaboration on multiple fronts, I admittedly have no idea what that looks like.

Clearly, instigating a nationwide collaboration mandate to solve our developing workforce problem is outside of my control. But what I can do is collaborate more closely with kindred spirits (and I am fortunate to know MANY) to find better ways to do more of what many of us have wanted to do all along…help people. Specifically, helping one person at a time bridge individual talent gaps so they can achieve their career goals and take on the leadership roles of the future.

Related: Leaders: Never Forget That Everyone Needs Encouragement

Success will require much more than adopting training tools. Where I have seen progress is through internships and formalized training programs. I personally know college grads that got to intern in government investment shops that are now portfolio managers and/or being groomed for positions as Treasurers. If you ask them, they’ll tell you that before they learned of the internships, they didn’t know that public finance or treasury management existed. The programs were small, but impactful because of the support of forward-thinking agencies and the dedication of internal mentors. They helped bright young professionals in ways that would have been impossible otherwise.

Remember the starfish. The story of being overwhelmed when faced with the impossible task of saving all the starfish that had washed up on the shore has always resonated with me. No, we can’t save them all. But, we can help this one, and this one, and maybe one more. A few years ago, a dear friend warned me to slow down. Apparently, my visions of grandeur were getting the best of me and it was showing. No, I wasn’t going to change the world, or the financial industry, or even the way state and local governments educated investment staff. All I could do is my best to help one person at a time. That’s when the starfish came to mind and I started to shift from focusing on every one to focusing on each one. Now, when I think of FIA graduates and the up and comers I get to meet every day, I don’t think of the numbers, but think of Andrew and Janz and Nicole and Jessica and so many more like them.

It takes time but slowly, graciously, a team of warriors is growing…FIA educators Marcia, David, Tracy and Leslie and advisors like Diane, Vikki, Emily, Bonny and Kirk; Behind the scene angels, mentors and investors; Trade association leaders at associations like, and; Professors, instructors and like-minded community leaders too many to name! Their commitment to collaborate and the dedication I've seen continue to amaze. Thank you, thank you, thank you all!

Battle on warriors! Let’s keep motivating and inspiring each other to create systems that will efficiently and effectively develop the next generation, starting with government finance professionals and seeing where it goes from there. If you too are up for some shifting and mold breaking, I would love to hear from you.