by: Shawn Avery | The Virginian-Pilot [link]

The shrinking talent pool is not unique to Hampton Roads, as industries across the globe grapple with the skills gap and the baby boomer exodus.

The Harvard Business Review reported over 9 million open jobs in the U.S. as of late April. While the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to this national record high, our talent pipeline was fractured long before this global crisis.

Over the last couple of years, the Hampton Roads Workforce Council has placed significant focus on talent alignment — working with like-minded organizations and workforce development stakeholders — to ensure we are creating solutions and strategies that support today’s talent-driven economy. In 2019, the council commissioned the talent alignment strategy, which revealed the growing labor shortage in Hampton Roads as a result of the economic state of full employment, competition for high-demand occupations and other factors. This guided the council’s expansion of the talent development program. With a dedicated full-time team of personnel, we’ve uncovered five best practices to address one of our most complex regional pain points — growing talent.

Establish strategic partnerships

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all witnessed the power of collective impact. Cross-sector partnerships have proven valuable in terms of growing talent. Over the last several months, the Workforce Council has forged myriad partnerships to support regional economic recovery efforts — most notably, the 757 Recovery & Resilience Framework, which was created by leading business organizations and institutions in the region, including the Hampton Roads Alliance, the Hampton Roads Chamber, the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, ReInvent Hampton Roads, CIVIC Leadership Institute, Norfolk State University and Old Dominion University.

This action framework provides a game plan for the Hampton Roads business community to build a better, more resilient economy for the people of the 757.

Invest in the emerging workforce

Employers and workforce development think tanks must connect with K-12 education systems to help students develop successful career pathways that are aligned with real jobs. Through the NextGen Pathways program, the Workforce Council is teaching youth and young adults, ages 14 to 24, workplace readiness and academic skills. Participants have the opportunity to attend career fairs and enroll in internships where they learn about in-demand careers and prepare for meaningful occupations of the future.

Take a proactive approach to talent retention

The 757 is home to the world’s largest naval base with 8,000-12,000 employable service members transitioning out of the military each year, and also boasts eight four-year universities and three community colleges. Talent is here, but we have to establish systems to harness and retain our existing pool. For example, the Workforce Council established the Hampton Roads Veterans Employment Center to leverage the talents of one of our most valuable resources — our military. We have been able to connect over 300 service members to in-demand jobs right here in Hampton Roads.

The council is replicating this model with the new Campus757 program, but focusing retention efforts on college students. Through this program, young professionals make connections with local businesses to launch their careers and establish a home base in Hampton Roads.

Remove barriers to employment

Removing barriers to employment, such as child care and transportation, helps to expand the talent pool. Earlier this year, the Workforce Council launched Network2Work — a new initiative that not only matches quality job seekers with well-paying jobs that lead to careers, but also connects individuals with resources like affordable child care, reliable transportation, legal assistance, and health care.

Focus on in-demand and fast-growing industries

The council is committed to serving all employers in the region with hiring and training resources to build their workforce, but our efforts have been keenly focused on in-demand and fast-growing industry clusters that have the most significant gaps such as manufacturing, maritime, health care, hospitality and, more recently, offshore wind.

We’ve done the groundwork — collaborating with key stakeholders, listening to employers and job seekers, identifying the gaps, and exploring the opportunities unique to our region — and we are now in the process of executing our plan through thoughtful and strategic programming. Now, we are better positioned to build a robust talent pipeline equipped to meet the employer demands of today and those in the very near future.

Shawn Avery is president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Workforce Council. Learn more at

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