Talent in America and Reimagining 20th Century Success

Successful business colleagues, laughing
Successful business colleagues, laughing

Exclusive Ideagen Interview by George Sifakis with Jamie Merisotis, CEO of Lumina Foundation and Author of America Needs Talent

Jamie Merisotis, Lumina Foundation's CEO, as well as author of the new book America Needs Talent shared a great deal on the sector of talent in America with Ideagen. An important goal of Lumina, Merisotis said, is to increase the number of "high quality post-secondary degrees, certificates, or other credentials" in Americans to 60 percent. Merisotis said it was "pretty clear that the way in which [America] develops and deploys talent is going to become critical for the country going forward."

Merisotis became CEO after being approached for the job when Lumina's former CEO retired in 2007. Merisotis said he "realized that Lumina Foundation would be a new opportunity...to use the knowledge and the experience that I had developed and to apply it in a different context," highlighting the "social purpose" that philanthropic organizations serve. Merisotis also said that a private foundation like Lumina is "in a position to take risks that could lead to large scale social impact."

Merisotis said the importance in increasing post-secondary educational attainment was how it can "impact our collective well-being as a country" through creating a "more talented society." For Merisotis, talent isn't just "how talented a musician is," but is rather "an asset that reflects the knowledge and skills and values that lead to success." Merisotis described talent as a "synergy that results from [elements of talent]...that ultimately impacts individuals and society in ways that serve us well in the long term."

In America Needs Talent, Merisotis details the most important aspect for America as growing talent. He said, "two millions jobs...are unfilled because employers literally cannot find the people who are qualified to fill them." Merisotis said that America "knows that our international competitors are investing in talent development and deployment." While other countries are "emphasizing ways in which they can build their economic and social structures...by investing in talent," Merisotis said America needs to focus on talent as "perhaps the single unifying idea" to lead to further prosperity.

The son of a Greek immigrant mother, Merisotis said his life's work is to try to help "millions of millions of people who experience some of the things...I experienced a generation ago" while knowing issues like immigration are "much more important...than they were in the past." When asked what lessons America could learn from the previous century, Merisotis noted the change in how immigration is perceived. In the 1930s, America "recognized that immigration was part of the American ethos" and "wanted to open the doors of America to a broad array of talent and people." Merisotis said that America was "able to welcome people who actually could add value..." Merisotis expressed that he hopes that America "can take some of the good lessons of that time period...as we think about what America needs in this new chapter."

Referring to America Needs Talent again, Merisotis detailed ways to "improve our success as a country by ushering in a new era of innovation and prosperity." These ideas include "rethinking and reimagining higher education" and "repurposing the federal role in talent development" in order to "take the best of what we have...and apply it towards a higher purpose in a single entity." Merisotis also said, "success is really going to come to our country when we actually grow the talent that's there" by "investing in educational systems, investing in the actual talent deployment."

When asked about cross-sector collaboration Merisotis spoke about single-mindedness in America. "All of these things are interrelated...you actually collaborate across sectors in order to achieve the greater good," he said of problem solving in America. Merisotis wants to "unleash private sector innovation" and argued if more money from private capital market was used, "and actually applied...towards improving talent, we could have a dramatic impact." Merisotis elaborated that "using the power of collaboration...would have an enormous impact for the country."

Finally, Merisotis addressed what he considers the key lessons from America Needs Talent. "...We have to focus on talent as the outcome...by making that a priority, we can actually invest in the kinds of changes that are needed in each of the areas that are identified in the book to actually achieve that much higher level of talent outcomes that we require as a nation," he said.

Jamie Merisotis will be touring around the U.S. the remainder of the year in support of America Needs Talent, which was released on September 1st 2015.