After a Rebranding and New Strategic Partnership on the Peninsula, Hampton Roads Workforce Council Positions the Region’s Economy for Further Success with its Workforce Development Programs
By Ryan Miller
Then-Governor Terry McAuliffe celebrating the opening of Hampton Roads Workforce Council's (formerly Opportunity Inc.) Hampton Roads Veterans Employment Center and redesign of their Virginia Career Works Center in Norfolk
Last September, Opportunity Inc. was rebranded as Hampton Roads Workforce Council, a name that would serve as an indicator of the organization’s immense impact on the region’s economy. “As the organization has continued to evolve and workforce development has become more of a topic and seen more as an economic driver for the region, we really wanted the name to better reflect what we do,” remarks Shawn Avery, president and CEO of Hampton Roads Workforce Council.
The workforce development organization for the Southside, Hampton Roads Workforce Council identifies the area’s workforce needs, and through its various programs and partnerships it ensures that the region’s professional talent meets those needs through employment, career development training and education. The essence of what they do is well represented by the staggering statistics found in their 2017–2018 Annual Report: 3,950 businesses and employers served; 9,721 individual customers totaling 37,786 visits at their Virginia Career Works Hampton Roads Centers; placed 495 customers in jobs paying an average of $32,282; 1,600 veterans served; and 11,962 connections made with youth and young adults ages 14–24.
In 2001 HRWC became the official workforce development network for the region, which oversees federally funded workforce development programs as a partner of Virginia Career Works, serving the localities of Chesapeake, Franklin, Isle of Wight, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Southampton, Suffolk and Virginia Beach. The organization has been a model example nationally for their implementation of a workforce development system by facilitating communication within the business community while assisting qualified workers and jobseekers in finding suitable employment.
At their Virginia Career Works Centers in Franklin, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Suffolk, individuals looking for a career or entering the workforce can meet with their staff as well as their partner staff and get connected with job openings and available careers or learn more about educational opportunities to integrate their skills into a specific field. The process is simplified, beginning with an online orientation that’s accessible from home, so an individual can develop an understanding of what the Virginia Career Works Centers offer. Resources such as computers, fax machines, phones and printers at the Centers are also accessible to anyone.
For those needing assistance with their career search, HRWC career developers can help identify what opportunities are currently available while conducting assessments to determine their skillsets, review resumes and establish what level of education they possess to connect them with employment. Even if their skills are out of date or don’t necessarily meet what’s in demand for the region’s workforce, Virginia Career Works can potentially send an individual back to school and pay for a new training opportunity that’s available. All of these services are tailored to the individual and are free.
Gov. Ralph Northam signs legislation at Hampton Roads Veterans Employment Center
It’s a similar process for members of the military, including veterans, transitioning service members as well as their family, at the Hampton Roads Veterans Employment Center, however, with a concentrated and hands-on focus on their needs. “Some of them may be coming straight off of a boat, so they may need connections with housing or something to that effect. It’s a lot more intensive, and we’ve got a number of partners that are associated with that activity,” Avery asserts. Since opening in January of 2018, the Hampton Roads Veterans Employment Center has been dynamic in providing an overview of opportunities available—including career choices and connection to support activities—for those who have served as well as their families, many of which are not from the region and familiar with what options are available.
New this year, the Hampton Roads Veteran’s Career Compass is a free online portal where an individual veteran or transitioning service member can upload their military transcript and connect to employers who have posted jobs online.
Delceno Miles, Hampton Roads Workforce Council; Hans VonKruger, Bank of America; Shawn Avery, Hampton Roads Workforce Council
Hampton Roads Workforce Council has also been a pivotal asset for employers. They have a dedicated division and staff that meets or talks with the employer to identify their needs, recognize what resources are available and put in place a package for that business. This can range from simply posting jobs and getting connected with individuals looking for employment to potentially providing training dollars to companies that are starting a new production line to make new hires to develop their skills through training specifically based on that new production line. Avery adds, “It really runs the gamut, it’s really around what the employer is looking for and what they need, and then we’ll put programs in place to meet that need.”
For our region, HRWC has found the areas with the most individual jobs as well as employers are within the healthcare, manufacturing, shipbuilding and ship repair, information technology, cybersecurity and construction industries. “We focus on the high demand, high growth occupational areas,” explains Avery. Certain cities also specialize in industries specific to their locality, including hospitality in Virginia Beach and distribution in Suffolk.
Leveraging partnerships with local organizations has been imperative to HRWC’s efficiency for workforce development and in all aspects of the community, from business education and economic development to educational institutions, faith-based entities and nonprofits. “We take the stance that there’s no need for us to do this alone, this is big enough what we’re doing to work closely with our partners,” Avery shares. Their partners include the Hampton Roads Chamber, Franklin Southampton Chamber of Commerce and Isle of Wight/Windsor/Smithfield Chamber of Commerce, Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, Reinvent Hampton Roads and Hampton Roads Planning District Commission among many others.
Hampton Roads Veterans Employment Center
With the veteran, active duty and transitioning services member population HRWC serves, they’re collaborating with USO, the Navy and other military-based organizations. For the business community, they’ll work with established groups based in different industry sectors, and, in particular, Virginia Ship Repair Association, Tidewater Builders Association and Virginia Beach Hospitality Association.
Additionally, educational partnerships have been beneficial for HRWC’s youth programming, especially with local colleges and universities, community colleges and city public school systems. As a part of their NextGen youth program focusing on preparing the emerging workforce, the NextGen Opportunity Fair in March will bring employers together to talk with youth about current and future career opportunities available.
With the announcement of their rebranding, Hampton Roads Workforce Council embarked in a new strategic partnership with Peninsula Council for Workforce Development that is viewed as a critical component to their mission for economic success.
After working at the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development for six years, Avery brought his insight on plans and developments on the Peninsula to HRWC, where they wanted to find a way for the two workforce boards to collaborate more closely. The two recently partnered to establish the Southeastern Virginia Workforce Collaborative to concentrate on workforce development together. Now when employers have a workforce need or an economic development prospect comes to town and could potentially move here, they don’t have to approach two separate workforce development boards. “Now we’re speaking with one voice when it comes to the business community,” Avery acknowledges.
The partnership encompasses more than business alone, as they’re planning youth programming together, looking to expand their Hampton Roads Veterans Employment Center to the Peninsula and developing an education coalition with the four community colleges and educational institutions within the region. Avery maintains, “It’s really just kind of reinvigorated everything we’re doing now from just us focusing on our subregional areas to now looking at this as a true regional workforce development effort and really coming together where it makes sense to collaborate and partner more.”
Hampton Roads Workforce Council has a prudent agenda set for the immediate future and beyond, mainly with their Hampton Roads Coalition for Talent Development. HRWC has received funding from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation to conduct a major gap analysis and educational alignment strategy to delve deeper into the business community’s needs and what skills they’re looking for. HRWC will be comparing that information with what’s being produced in the educational systems so they can identify specific areas where they’re not meeting those business needs so they can implement appropriate programs.
“We’re developing the workforce skills we need now but also five years from now, 10 years from now so that when another big prospect such as Amazon or a major employer comes into town, we’ve got programs in place that are going to meet those needs of now and in the future,” says Avery. “We’re very excited about that effort as we move forward.”
Learn more about Hampton Roads Workforce Council as well as Virginia Career Works and Hampton Roads Veterans Employment Center at VCWHamptonRoads.org.