The Future of Work is Now

The Hampton Roads Workforce Council is Committed to Strategic Talent Alignment

by CoVaBizMag

By Shawn Avery, President & CEO, Hampton Roads Workforce Council

As the demand for skilled workers in key industries continues to outpace the availability of qualified professionals, regions across the country are experiencing talent pipeline challenges. Hampton Roads is no exception. There are myriad contributing factors to this shortage: education and training gaps, demographic changes including an aging workforce and a steady decline in young job seekers interested in the skilled trades, and a lack of training opportunities like apprenticeships, internships and on-the-job training programs essential to the development of a skilled workforce.

Embarking on 50 years of service to both job seekers and employers, the Hampton Roads Workforce Council remains committed to leading our regional workforce ecosystem through thoughtful collaboration and innovation. We’ve established partnerships with stakeholders, actively engaging with training vendors, businesses and industry leaders to proactively close and bridge existing gaps. Leveraging a shared commitment to tackling some of the most urgent needs of employers and job seekers across the region, we’re working to meet the present and future needs of in-demand industries—specifically in the area of talent recruitment. These joint efforts have significantly transformed our workforce ecosystem, and the Hampton Roads Workforce Council has been at the forefront of this evolution.

©Photo Courtesy of Shawn Avery

©Photo Courtesy of Shawn Avery

A Long-standing Commitment to Regional Talent Alignment
In 2019, the Workforce Council identified strategic talent alignment as one the most promising solutions to creating a thriving economy, so we leaned in to ensure education and workforce development efforts align with the needs of employers. We commissioned a study—the Talent Alignment Strategy—which found that the growing labor shortage in Hampton Roads was a result of various economic factors including full-time employment numbers and competition for high-demand occupations. The research illuminated issues across all industries, but the maritime industry presented challenges and opportunities particularly unique to our region. This data guided the expansion of our Talent Development program and later resulted in a $663,000 GO Virginia grant focused on the maritime industry. With a dedicated full-time team, we set out on a path to address one of our most complex regional pain points—growing and retaining talent.

The Workforce Council’s commitment to leading regional talent alignment efforts resulted in a series of grants and initiatives that accelerated our talent development architecture. In March 2022, we launched the HR STRONG PILOT program, which offers marine trade training opportunities. With $4 million in total funding from the Virginia General Assembly, we have been able to train more than 192 individuals in Hampton Roads.

In addition, we received funding to expand the WISC program (Women in Skilled Careers). This program provides skills training for women in industries where they are underrepresented, including maritime. Through WISC, we are creating more opportunities for women to earn family-sustaining wages and removing structural barriers to employment by providing stipends for childcare and transportation during the training program.

Building on this maritime momentum, the Workforce Council received an $11 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (Good Jobs Challenge Grant) to lead the development and implementation of a Regional Workforce Training System (RWTS) in Hampton Roads—the region’s first structured workforce ecosystem focused on building a talent pipeline for the local maritime industry. This groundbreaking training system was launched as a gateway for jobs such as maritime welder, electrical technician, wind turbine technician, sheet metal fabricator, structural fitter, commercial driver and more.

Through this initiative, the Workforce Council established partnerships with more than 60 businesses, community-based organizations, and agencies that will collaborate to support the Regional Workforce Training System through talent recruitment, development and retention as well as job creation.
As part of this work, we recently launched the Waves of Opportunity Campaign, in partnership with the Urban League of Hampton Roads, to begin the recruitment and training process. With more than 11,000 positions open to job seekers, the Urban League is focused on diversifying talent outreach and recruitment, connecting historically under-resourced and underrepresented populations in the maritime industry.

While increased federal investments in workforce development offer new opportunities to expand our footprint and create new initiatives, these resources also help to bolster our existing programs that have proven effective over the last five decades.

Every day, our Virginia Career Works Centers and Business Services team work to connect job seekers with employers in the most in-demand industries. As important, we continue to enhance programs specifically designed to retain and attract our veterans and emerging workforce.

Through our Hampton Roads Veterans Employment centers, we have forged new partnerships to ensure that our services, programs and events are meeting the needs of our military spouses, transitioning service members and veterans. We have also connected with students and employers through our NextGen and Campus757 programs, providing workplace readiness skills and connecting young professionals to internships to strengthen our regional talent pipeline.

On the Horizon
The Workforce Council has been steadfast in efforts to build a skilled talent pipeline capable of meeting the needs of our most in-demand industries. As home to the world’s largest naval base and the nation’s largest shipbuilding subsector, we have prioritized the development of programs, services and solutions to support the maritime industry, and government and industry stakeholders have taken notice.

The Navy recently announced plans to transform its nuclear-powered submarine fleet to maintain its critical undersea advantage. This military mandate calls for more than 100,000 skilled workers, and the Hampton Roads Workforce Council has been entrusted to meet this critical demand.

In the coming months, we will begin delivering on a $14 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to launch a series of projects designed to bolster the regional workforce in the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) and related industries. These initiatives are part of a major, nationwide effort led by the Navy to strengthen and expand the nation’s maritime manufacturing workforce to meet a massive increase in demand for submarine construction.

We will work in collaboration with Newport News Shipbuilding and a host of local maritime industry businesses and training providers, serving as the central hub that will connect the shipbuilding and ship repair industries and various workforce training providers to job seekers in the region.
As the convenor of the workforce development ecosystem in Hampton Roads, we are optimistic about the trajectory of regional workforce development initiatives. We have laid the groundwork to ensure a talent pipeline that is skilled, diverse and adaptable; and these combined efforts signal that we are moving in the right direction and prepared for the jobs of today and those of the future.

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