Workforce Council chosen for back-to-work initiative, partnering with RISE

NORFOLK — The Hampton Roads Workforce Council has been selected as one of six agencies in the country to take part in an effort to develop innovative ways to rapidly retrain and refocus more than 25,000 displaced workers into higher paying jobs.

The Future of Work Grand Challenge was created by four social impact organizations — New Profit, JFF, XPRIZE, Jobcase and MIT Solve — to respond to the dislocation of thousands of workers caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The other workforce councils were in Connecticut, Michigan, California, Massachusetts and Texas.

Shawn Avery, president and chief executive officer of the Hampton Roads Workforce Council, referred to the pandemic as a “unique time,” and said the organization has continued to rise to the occasion and offer solutions to the region’s workforce needs.

“Even during this pandemic we don’t pass up the opportunity to try something new and innovative,” Avery said.

RISE, the Hampton Roads-based nonprofit that focuses on coastal resilience challenges, is providing up to $250,000 to select small businesses that are part of the program.

Paul Robinson, executive director of RISE, said in a news release that his group is excited to expand the community of companies already using the area as a testbed for resilience innovation.

“As we continue to explore resilience — the capacity of a community to bounce back and adapt in the face of disruptions — we see it extends into multiple areas, including workforce,” Robinson stated. “When we first discussed the New Profit’s Future of Work Grand Challenge with XPRIZE Foundation and MIT Solve, we saw it as an exciting opportunity to expand our community of companies already using our area as a testbed for resilience innovation. That’s why we brought the Challenge to the Hampton Roads Workforce Council and are now partnering with them to offer our region as a living laboratory for winning solutions.”

The opportunity to partner with RISE piqued the workforce council’s interest, Avery said.

He said they anticipate helping 350 to 500 workers in the region, although it could be more.

“We know there is a number of people who need new skills and need to find work,” Avery said, “so we think this can be a potential way of solving that issue.”

Avery said they will look to identify local workforce needs and opportunities specifically within the maritime industry before developing new innovative training solutions to recruit individuals.

The data gained from the challenge will help regional teams refine solutions in real time, create shorter feedback loops, and better align new approaches to employment services with workforce boards across the country.

“The whole part of this challenge is to determine if there are new solutions that we can start incorporating that can do fast-paced training so we can quickly train individuals up,” Avery said. “I think this has the opportunity to have some long-term benefits for the region even after we get out of COVID.”