Local leaders are trying to solve Hampton Roads’ labor shortage

Hampton Roads employers face a labor shortage unlike the region has seen in decades.

Without better educational and career development programs, the region may not be able to attract or retain key businesses, thereby affecting the entire local economy.

A new workforce analysis report, commissioned by the Hampton Road Community Foundation in partnership with the Hampton Roads Workforce Council, lays out challenges today’s workers, employers, educators and industry leaders must address in order to expand business and promote economic development.

For example, in the past five years, more than 30,000 new jobs have been added to the region, but the working age population has only increased by 9,600 people. The 2019 Talent Alignment Strategy report identified this statistic as one key indicator of the regional labor shortage.

Findings are based on the latest available data and focus groups and will be presented at an Understanding Hampton Roads forum June 25 at the Chesapeake Conference Center. Among the report’s recommendations are creating multiple pathways to train and attract workers for the region’s most in-demand occupations.

The June 25 event will include a presentation by the report’s authors – the Chicago-based Council for Adult and Experiential Learning and Avalanche Consulting. It will also include a panel of regional business executives, college educators and workforce development officials.

As an overview, the report includes 10 key findings:

• There is a growing labor shortage. There is modest population growth in the region. The aging workforce is retiring. There is a demand for increased wages.

• Hampton Roads is too dependent on contract labor. There are many seasonal jobs here, and employers compete for contract labor by providing unemployment benefits for seasonal workers.

• Hampton Roads’ workforce is diverse. The levels of unemployment and poverty for people of color in Hampton Roads are lower than the national average. Most populations of color here also experience higher levels of labor force participation and educational attainment than the national average for their population groups.

• The age of the Hampton Roads population has shifted. There are more millennials and retirees here, but there are fewer children. Also, the region lost a significant number of 35- to 44-year-old working adults. Employers may look elsewhere for more experienced talent.

• Career training and pathways have improved. Educators and employers are collaborating in better ways to increase the number of licensures and credentials offered to school-age children. 

• Educational attainment rates in Hampton Roads have improved above the national average. The number of bachelor’s degrees received has increased, yet most of the local workforce, called a “talent pipeline,” remains heavily concentrated at mid-level or associate degree level driven by the region’s military population. Health care continues to produce the most degrees.

• There is statewide competition for high-demand occupations. For example, the need for computer and information technology-related skills will likely rise across a variety of industries. Hampton Roads’ close proximity to federal agencies and to metropolitan regions will create significant competition for these in-demand workers.

• The private sector lacks job diversity. The region lacks concentration in any nationally competitive private-sector industries outside of shipbuilding. Growth mostly occurred in unskilled or semi-skilled occupations, such as retail, though some increases were seen in health care, business and computer-related jobs.

• Regional leaders should watch the military population. A large portion of retiring and exiting military members have skill sets that are transferrable to jobs in the region’s target industries, such as manufacturing, ship repair, ports. Unlike other states, Virginia provides no special tax exemptions for military retirements. As a result, senior military talent may leave the region.

• There is limited supply of affordable housing and transportation options. The region’s reputation as a tourism destination creates a market for higher housing costs while its unique geography compounds issues with transportation. That can make it hard for skilled workers to be able to live here and get around.

The 2019 Hampton Roads Talent Alignment Strategy includes three reports that will be available at HamptonRoadsCF.org and VCWHamptonRoads.org on June 25. Part one focuses on a regional workforce analysis, part two highlights the supply-demand worker gap and part three outlines a strategy for aligning talent and training to meet workforce needs.