Thriving cities all have one thing in common: a skilled workforce. The world’s most competitive cities invest in human capital, both for working age employees as well as for students. Nurturing talent to create a growing and diverse workforce provides a valuable edge to competitive cities. Most cities already know this, and yet all but the tried-and-true global leaders struggle to attract, develop and retain high-quality talent. 

London, New York, Singapore, Paris, San Francisco. It’s no accident that these vibrant cities have dominated the world stage for decades. A.T. Kearney’s Global Cities Report examines top cities, as well as those with the most potential, and quantifies what factors set them apart. Human capital tops the list. Afterall, a city’s skill base is what investors look at, what attracts and shapes corporations, and ultimately what fuels an economy. Human capital and a healthy business landscape are reciprocal and form a closed-loop circuit. Talent feeds business, which in turn attracts more talent. 

The most competitive cities incubate talent through top-tier schools, universities, municipal programs and policies, and invest in technology that sets the stage for continued innovation. Policymakers have a real grasp of where and how students learn and the path of students post-graduation. Armed with that data, they can create or enhance learning hubs and other programs and policies that limit brain drain. They can also focus on maximizing diversity because it’s widely understood that the world’s most competitive cities draw talent from around the world. 

Human capital and wellness are also correlated. Leading cities that improved in human capital have also improved in personal well-being, keeping citizens satisfied and less likely to relocate. Top cities have been testing strategies to increase the number of residents with tertiary degrees, develop local talent, create more international schools, and even help to better integrate international students into the community. 

Cities that put their people first create higher quality living conditions, a solid economy and sustainable growth. Developing policies and strategies with talent at the core is the most effective way to become (or remain) competitive.