Groups partner to build world-class workforce

Business leaders across eastern Virginia are demonstrating how cooperation can bridge skills gaps between the current workforce and job openings in local industries.

After forming the Southeastern Virginia Regional Workforce Collaborative last fall, the Hampton Roads Workforce Council and the Greater Peninsula Workforce Board funded a report this year on the region’s workforce demographics, the supply-demand gap in work skills and a workforce strategy to improve the talent pipeline.

Delivered in June, the Talent Alignment Strategy report notes that the region has a labor shortage and is operating at close to full employment, echoing the national employment rate. As a result, the gain of 30,000 jobs over the past five years has outpaced growth in the working-age population of 9,600 people. Information technology is at the top of the industries seeking qualified employees.

The report notes that a single regional talent development strategy “will be key to Hampton Roads’ ability to create a robust workforce and world-class talent development system.”

Serving approximately 4,500 businesses and employers, the new regional collaborative is working with local school systems, community colleges, technical schools, apprentice programs and four-year colleges and universities to identify needed skillsets and develop programs to meet those needs.

It’s also working to address regional labor shortages, especially in high-growth fields such as shipbuilding and ship repair, health care, information technology and hospitality.

Additionally, the collaborative will work to encourage military veterans to remain in Hampton Roads and to convince millennials that the region’s employment opportunities, lifestyle and other amenities are on par with areas such as Charlotte, North Carolina, and Northern Virginia. “Young people look for a certain style and quality of life,” says William Mann, executive director of the Greater Peninsula Workforce Board. “We have to work really hard to make the case for millennials that this is the place to stay.”

In a region long plagued by fragmentation, the collaborative also seeks to be a template for the formation of other alliances. “We’re probably setting a really good example for how other organizations in the area might consider working together,” Mann adds.

“We’re speaking with one voice when meeting the needs of the business community in Hampton Roads,” says Shawn Avery, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Workforce Council. “It shows we’re unified when it comes to workforce development for businesses looking to come into our area.”