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Talent: Grow, Attract, and Retain Skilled Talent at all Levels

The Challenge: Talent Attraction, Retention and Development
GO Virginia Region 2 boasts some of the commonwealth’s most prestigious colleges and universities, educating the best and brightest new grads. Unfortunately, fewer than 5% of graduating seniors make plans to stay in the region to pursue their careers after graduation. Employers and local businesses have struggled to develop a robust talent pool, losing talent to larger metropolitan areas. Talent pipelines are drained at both ends as employers cite a deficit of highly skilled talent, particularly with mid-level managers and team leaders, due to recent graduates and more experienced workers leaving the region to pursue higher wage jobs and skills training elsewhere. This has been a particular challenge for the manufacturing, IT, life sciences and healthcare sectors. In the past year, over 1,500 new manufacturing, unmanned systems and IT jobs have been announced in the New River Valley alone. Companies are actively expanding, but students surveyed in the region continue to rank job opportunities as low. To address this challenge, both economic and workforce development organizations from GO Virginia Region 2 secured GO Virginia funding to support strategic planning to jump start career pathways. 

The Solution: GO Virginia - Virginia Initiative for Growth and Opportunity
Unlike other funding streams, GO Virginia emphasizes local distribution of funds to retain young professionals, promote career advancement opportunities, and support the needs of local businesses. GO Virginia funding has helped facilitate actionable progress to tackle the Brain Drain challenge. Most significantly, GO Virginia resources have assisted local employers in staying competitive with national and global markets.

Recent activities in 2019 include:

  • A Talent Attraction & Retention research study
  • United Way’s Ignite Program
  • CareerQuest, a hands-on career exploration for 7th graders
  • Destination for Talent, developing local internships for college students
  • Six Sigma Training for local employers in Region 2 

Research Study: Stopping the Brain Drain
In 2018, the Roanoke Regional Partnership, Onward NRV, and the Lynchburg Business Alliance collaborated on a research project funded by GO Virginia to understand how to attract, engage, and retain talent. The project surveyed over 1,100 students and alumni across a variety of colleges and universities in the region, while also conducting focus groups and interviews with higher education faculty/ staff, business representatives, and young professionals. Students cited low cost of living, outdoor recreation, and low crime among the most desirable assets the area has to offer while ranking local job opportunities as poor. Employers from a variety of industries— agriculture, architecture, automotive, construction, education, energy, healthcare, finance, insurance, legal, manufacturing, technology, and warehousing—weighed in on hiring challenges. Those employers reported a desire to recruit from local talent pools, especially during times of low unemployment. More entry level applicants with employable skills and professionals with 5 - 7 years of experience ranked high among the needs of employers surveyed. The survey results led to strategies to create relationships between businesses and students that include college leadership programs, local internships programs, as well as a conference and year-round networking program for young professionals that incorporates outdoor recreation and leadership training. GO Virginia launched marketing campaigns based on regional strengths, targeting students in high demand fields. Finally, alumni networks from local colleges and universities ramped up efforts to draw back graduates who left the area. 

Career Pathways Development
While 7th graders are expected to develop a career plan, students often enter middle and high school without knowing all their options or having an understanding of what skills they need to learn at the middle or high school level to pursue those careers. Often, students’ choices of elective subjects don’t align with their career choices. In turn, employers aren’t seeing entry job candidates with the skills needed to perform those jobs. The United Way’s Ignite Program aims to address a lack of information available to students about local career choices and seeks to create a way for students to develop a career plan as a living document. The plan will travel with students from middle school to high school and help them make informed decisions about which courses to take and which skills to hone prior to entering the job market. Ignite’s internship program is also creating a talent pipeline to prepare high school students for the local workforce through paid summer internships with local employers. Schools make connections with local businesses as a way to inform curriculum and offer fresh talent to United Way’s employer partners. Similar to Ignite’s Career Expo, CareerQuest, also a hands-on, career exploration event for 7th graders, showcases employers across a wide range of industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare and automotive, allowing students to see first-hand what opportunities are available to them in their own backyard. Nearly 5,000 7th grade students from Roanoke, Lynchburg, and the New River Valley attended the event where they moved through four major zones, specific to industry, and were encouraged to engage with local businesses. Students tracked their interests in a “passport”, and when they returned to school, teachers and counselors were better equipped to develop a career plan based on individual student interests. 

Destination for Talent Internship Programs
Destination for Talent is a newly developed project to grow the number of internships in the local area available to students during the school year. The program provides local employers early access to students while offering handson work experience to students who may not have been financially positioned to relocate for an internship. Destination for Talent has seen enthusiasm from over 20 employers across manufacturing, IT, food and beverage manufacturing, healthcare, and life sciences industries. As an added value, college and university faculty partnered with employers to bring hands-on experiences inside the classroom, creating valuable brand recognition.

Employed Worker Training
Volvo’s 1.6-million-square-foot New River Valley assembly plant, located on nearly 300 acres in Dublin, Virginia, is the largest Volvo truck manufacturing facility in the world. Volvo had plans to offer Lean Six Sigma Green Belt training to a handful of its employees. With GO Virginia’s help, Volvo was able to train twice that number, a total of 16 employees. The successful partnership with Volvo and New River Community College, as well as the overall impact of the training, resulted in efficiency, saving time and money, and attracting new customers; it allowed Volvo to remain competitive in the market. Moreover, a more skilled workforce means opportunities for higher wage jobs and leadership roles for these workers. Similarly, GO Virginia funds also support startup businesses with worker training. Affordable Energy Concepts, a solar energy company in Amherst, sent three of its employees to earn an industry specific certification. GO Virginia funds matched from Workforce Development covered 90% of the cost of that training. 

With GO Virginia’s support of projects like Ignite, CareerQuest, Destination for Talent, and funded worker training, workforce and economic development organizations have been able to take actionable steps toward creating talent pipelines in the region. Engaging a variety of age groups from middle and high school to college students and working adults, GO Virginia-funded projects have raised awareness of the career opportunities available to help retain new graduates and attract and train industrial skilled workers. GO Virginia projects have facilitated valuable collaboration between local businesses, local government, and higher education with continuing results in local gains in economic and workforce development. 

Read about more talent projects funded through GO Virginia.