By Tara Bozick
Because employers hire across boundary lines in Hampton Roads, the greater Peninsula and South Hampton Roads workforce development boards committed to working together more in a new regional workforce collaborative.
The idea is to provide a single point of contact for employers needing workforce help without navigating two sets of paperwork or policies, said President and CEO Shawn Avery of the Hampton Roads Workforce Council in South Hampton Roads.
The greater Peninsula and South Hampton Roads workforce organizations can coordinate their outreach and employer services while leveraging shared resources or networks to attract supporters or jointly apply for grant funding.
In addition to helping businesses find skilled workers, workforce boards get federal funding to help train eligible youth and adults, including providing on-the-job and customized training for employers. The boards can also coordinate internships or help laid-off workers find jobs or training.
The collaborative is forming at a time when Hampton Roads maritime companies are asking for help finding workers, said Executive Director Bill Mann of the Greater Peninsula Workforce Board.
Newport News Shipbuilding is spearheading the “America Builds and Repairs Great Ships” initiative with other employers in the shipbuilding and ship repair industry to find a way to fill future jobs, particularly as the Navy plans to expand to a 355-ship fleet, said Keisha Pexton, director of training and workforce development at NNS.
“We recognize there’s a challenge in front of us,” Pexton said. “The reality is, there’s not enough of a resource pool today.”
The regional collaborative’s first visible act was combining $150,000 to support training activity for the “America Builds and Repairs Great Ships” project, Mann said.
The Peninsula and South Hampton Roads boards will retain their independence and are not merging but can still realize efficiencies by working together, Mann said.
For instance, the Workforce Council opened a veterans employment center in Norfolk this past spring to help transitioning service members, spouses and veterans, Avery said. The collaborative can help expand that center to the Peninsula, he added.
It can be confusing for businesses talking to two different agencies not realizing they both are part of the same workforce development system, said Greater Peninsula Workforce Board Chairman John Olson, who is the ECPI Newport News campus president.
The Southeastern Virginia Workforce Regional Collaborative is forming amid other local workforce organizational and rebranding changes aimed at reducing confusion and helping get the word out.
“We don’t want to be the best kept secret around,” Mann said. “We want job seekers and especially our employer community to know that we’re here.”
After Matthew James resigned as president of the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development earlier this year, that public-private partnership division consolidated into the Greater Peninsula Workforce Board’s primary operations to form one entity, Mann said. Opportunity Inc. in South Hampton Roads changed its name to the Hampton Roads Workforce Council.
These changes came as the state rebranded its one-stop centers under the same Virginia Career Works name to help unify the system. The centers bring partner agencies and resources under one roof to connect job seekers with employers.
The career center at 600 Butler Farm Road in Hampton is a visible face for just one aspect of what the local workforce board oversees. The Hampton Roads Workforce Council operates four Virginia Career Works centers in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Franklin.
When asked if the workforce venture could help foster more regional collaboration, Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob McKenna said, “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
Employers can contact the collaborative by calling Steve Cook at 757-622-0944, ext. 110, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tara Bozick, 757-247-4741, email@example.com, @TidewaterBiz. Sign up for a free weekday business news email at TidewaterBiz.com.