Panel members discuss labor shortages and retaining talent at the “Understanding Hampton Roads” forum in Chesapeake on Tuesday. The panel members from left to right: Casey Roberts, executive director of New Horizons Regional Education Centers; Daniel Lufkin, president of Paul D. Camp Community College; Larry “Chip” Filer, associate vice president of entrepreneurship and economic development at Old Dominion University; Steven Wright, Chesapeake executive director of economic development; and Johnny Garcia, CEO of SimIS Inc.
“Bring sexy back.”
Those famous Justin Timberlake lyrics were thrown around several times at a forum discussing workforce shortages and talent attraction and retention.
There’s still a labor shortage in Hampton Roads and without diversification in the economy and less dependence on the defense industry, growing companies won’t be able to find adequately talented and skilled employees. That’s according to a new six-month study on workforce shortages and talent alignment released by the Hampton Roads Community Foundation and Hampton Roads Workforce Council.
The 2019 Talent Alignment Strategy has three parts: a workforce analysis, supply-demand analysis and talent alignment strategy.
Some of the report’s key findings echo many of those that have been conducted in the region. The region’s strengths lie in its expansion of career pathway programs, the variety of post-secondary education program and an increase in educational attainment. But its weaknesses are a modest population growth, talent retention, no strong regional branding, and disparities in regional education resources.
The study was conducted by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning or CAEL in Chicago and Avalanche Consulting Inc. in Austin. Researchers presented the main findings of the study Tuesday morning at an “Understanding Hampton Roads” forum hosted at the Chesapeake Conference Center. More than 400 local business leaders attended the forum.
A panel of local business and education leaders discussed how the findings affect Hampton Roads following a presentation of the study’s results.
Although the working age population has increased by just 9,600, more than 30,000 new jobs have been created in the region over the past five years. The unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in nearly two decades at 3.3 percent.
Three jobs have been created for every new person of working age in the past 10 years, according to the report. Baby boomers are contributing to that larger workforce gap by retiring and causing an increased demand for healthcare and a potential loss of skills in the region. The region is also significantly dependent on the defense industry and contract labor.
As outlined in similar studies, attracting and retaining talent, specifically for entry and middle-level positions and technology skilled positions, has been an issue for the region. There’s been a 13 percent loss in the Generation X population over the last 10 years, but there’s been an increase of more than 7,300 graduates over the last decade. Keeping those graduates here still remains a problem. Meanwhile, veterans remain a talented pool of applicants. More than 8,200 chose to remain in Hampton Roads after leaving the military in 2015.
“There’s tons of competition. As we look at how we are competing against those regions, we are behind. We’re doing a lot of really great things here in Hampton Roads, but we’re still far behind” said Johnny Garcia, CEO of Portsmouth-based SimIS Inc. and a panel member for the forum. “How do we shorten that gap?”
Garcia said military veterans are a large resource for employment.
“They come with a lot of capabilities. First and foremost, they’re loyal. As you hire loyal employees, they typically stay. Not only that, but they’re willing to go above and beyond,” he said, adding by comparison that workplace culture adjustments have to be made for millennial employees.
Improving the talent pool and retention of skilled employees starts at the K-12 education level, CAEL researchers said.
Although local companies and schools have implemented many programs to increase career awareness through education and training programs, a greater need for awareness remains.
Concerned about purpose
Casey Roberts, executive director of New Horizons Regional Education Centers and a panel member, said students have concerns about the types of occupations they pursue.
“They are very concerned about the purpose of their work and what experiences companies provide. We do a good job of saying, ‘Here are the jobs that we have in the region,’” he said. “But we don’t do a good job with offering experiences beyond a one-day field trip, a one-day job shadowing. … They want to go into your facilities. They want to do exactly what a technician is doing and know what their job would be like after they graduate.”
Those connections should stretch all the way into high school and college, according to panel members.
Most bachelor’s degrees to come out of the region are in healthcare, science and engineering, government, social work and criminology; and business, finance and economics. Areas of study with low degree attainment include architecture, construction, agriculture, transportation and legal professions.
The occupations with the highest level of severe shortages are truck and commercial drivers, material movers, nursing assistants, and general assemblers and fabricators in production. Occupation growth is mostly concentrated in unskilled or semi-skilled positions in retail, entertainment and logistics industries. Increases were also seen in healthcare, business, and computer-related positions.
“I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job telling the story of those industrial careers. IT, medical — those are wonderful industries,” said Stephen Wright, executive director of economic development for Chesapeake and another member of the panel. “When you talk about the port and you talk about the logistics and you talk about making things, that’s really the bread and butter of this region. So if we don’t protect that industry by making sure that we are developing a pipeline for the future, we’re going to have some significant issues.”
Significant financial investments are made into public schools to better educate and develop children’s skills and talent. But we “have to do a better job of getting a return on that investment. We need to make sure we know where the graduates are now and where they want to be five years from now,” Wright said.
Unlike many Hampton Roads studies focused on the workforce and talent retention, this study provided outlined strategies for improving the issues.
Some of those include creating and promoting full scale career pathways for in-demand occupations, increasing regional career awareness across K-12 systems, developing a regional web-based talent portal, and launching initiatives to engage underemployed and unemployed populations.
As far as talent development, the study suggests developing and adopting curriculum for soft skills across the region, promoting existing and growing work-based learning, developing mentorship and coaching programs for new workforce entrants, and identifying resources and needs for incumbent working training.
Additional strategies for then attracting and retaining that talent are enhancing efforts to retain local college graduates, supporting existing efforts and exploring new efforts to retain and engage existing military in the regional job market.
The study also suggests implementing an annual Regional Talent Pipeline Conference and establishing a regional convener role to coordinate sector partnerships.
During a discussion of how Hampton Roads leaders could collaborate more, the lack of a regional brand came up. What is Hampton Roads? There needs to be better branding in order to be able to attract a talented workforce to the region and help increase collaboration among the cities, Wright said.
“Until we have clarity that takes all these great ideas and sells them successfully, we’re not going to be able to see the long-run success.”