Connecting skilled workers

In my last post, I cited Mary Walshok’s strategies for addressing the mismatch between worker skills and employer needs.  One of the major prescriptions she offered was getting a region’s employers involved in worker training.

“Reskilling” and networking can happen on a smaller and less formal scale too. This week, Ann Arbor Chronicle co-founder & editor Dave Askins described one part of the value he finds in his membership at the Workantile Exchange, a membership-driven work space in downtown Ann Arbor:

The Workantile membership includes a range of independent workers – from novelists and attorneys to filmmakers and computer programmers. They are generally a cordial, friendly, and talented bunch of people. And on occasion I’ve taken advantage of their talents and expertise in the same way that I did with the accountant.

So the value of my time spent at The Workantile is not measured by asking: How many words did you write? How deep was the snow in that spot over there? It’s measured by the increased depth of understanding in various subjects that I can achieve, by letting the expertise of other members accumulate until it covers me from head to toe.

When I was a student at UM’s School of Information I had classmates who bought memberships at the Workantile.  Over in Detroit, the Imagination Station project has plans for a similarly themed space across from Roosevelt Park in Corktown.  (They’re fund-raising, by the way, and are getting a match from Fifth Third Bank, so you should head over and donate a few bucks right now!)

Collective spaces like the Workantile and Imagination Station can provide ways for students and job-seekers to network, collaborate, find jobs, build start-ups, and just plain learn from colleagues and other professionals.

As Jacobs, Glaeser, and so many other urban economists have demonstrated (Stephen Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From was a recent fast read that summarized the literature on the topic), cities at their most successful function as creativity hubs, fostering invention and growth among their collocated citizens.  Southeast Michigan must find ways to apply this insight both as part of the kind of coordinated regional effort Mary Walshok describes, and on the tiny but meaningful scale Dave Askins finds at Workantile.  Our region needs to cultivate the kind of marketplaces where skilled and talented people can find, and learn from, one another.

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