The role of talent in the innovation process is well established. Not only are organisations striving to ensure they have the brightest people working for them, but they are also striving to ensure they have the right levels of thought diversity to ensure that they come up with creative ideas and solutions.

Access to talent has always been an issue, but with a number of governments threatening to significantly tighten immigration criteria it has prompted a number of knowledge intensive companies to howl their disapproval.

Indeed, around 100 leading tech companies responded to President Trump’s ban on migrants from seven countries last week. It forms part of a wider concern about restrictions on their ability to attract the talent they need from abroad.

It’s not just high-tech giants that are concerned, with a recent survey from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) revealing that 24% of companies expect tighter immigration restrictions to have a negative impact on their productivity this year.

Knowledge economy

The concern is perhaps understandable. After all, a recent report from McKinsey Global Institute found that 35% of the 247 million or so people who live outside their country of birth are highly skilled migrants with at least a tertiary education. What’s more, migrants are typically significantly more qualified than the native population.

If we draw the correlation between access to talent and being able to innovate, this represents a challenge for organisations, but as with most challenges, there are opportunities too.

Open innovation is the process whereby you tap into the talent you need, when you need it, and the flexible nature of it allow you to access the skills required without requiring them to be physically and permanently located in your office.

Which is great, and indeed a recent study from the European Academic Network for Open Innovation suggests that a growing number of organisations are dabbling in open innovation. The most common forms are areas such as horizon scanning.

Skills gap

Alas, even here, the talent shortage cannot be escaped, as the report went on to reveal that organisations were struggling to fully capitalise on the possibilities of open innovation because their staff were not trained in the requisite skills.

“Research on Open Innovation readiness suggests that employees require a certain education in order to be able to successfully apply Open innovation methods. Therefore, our results suggest that even though several companies use Open innovation activities, they are not exploiting its full potential,” the report says.

Many of the other thought pieces on The Future Shapers highlight the need to build both a culture of innovation, but also the capacity for it, and skills development plays a crucial role in that. Open innovation can be a fantastic way to access talent on a temporary basis that you can’t access on a more permanent basis, but we still need to ensure that the full-time staff we do have are given the right training and environment to ensure they’re innovation ready.

The report highlights the strong initial results from open innovation, but if internal skills can be developed, especially in key areas such as IP management, entrepreneurship, collaboration, networking, and problem solving, these strong early results can be significantly improved upon.
It’s easy to fall into the trap that we are mere vessels being swept along by a tide of unchangeable circumstances, but when it comes to ensuring we have the right talent available to achieve our goals, the future really is in our own hands.