Hampton Roads workforce boards unite and switch focus to employers

Hampton Roads’ two workforce development boards are becoming a lot closer.

The Hampton Roads Workforce Council and the Greater Peninsula Workforce Board are in the midst of a new collaborative effort, meeting together and connecting job seekers with employers.

Additionally, with an ongoing economic boom and low unemployment, the two boards are focusing more on local companies and economic development, leaders said. 

“It’s around being a better resource for the business community,” said Shawn Avery, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Workforce Council.

In Hampton Roads and across Virginia, employers, rather than job seekers, are in need of help, said Megan Healy, chief workforce development adviser for Gov. Ralph Northam. The Hampton Roads unemployment rate was just 3.6 percent in January; it was 3.9 percent in January 2018, according to Virginia Employment Commission data. The state unemployment rate was 3.2 percent during the same time period, also down from 3.7 percent in January 2018.

With fewer workers looking for a job, Healy said employers are reduced to poaching employees from other businesses. With that in mind, workforce boards are focusing on pooling resources to help businesses find new sources of employees.

But “there are still plenty of people that are looking for jobs,” Healy said.

Bill Mann, executive director of the Greater Peninsula Workforce Board, said business leaders don’t really care if workers live in Virginia Beach or Newport News – they just want the best talent available. The same goes for companies looking to relocate to the area.

The new partnership – known formally as the Southeastern Virginia Workforce Regional Collaborative – began with a resolution between the two boards at a September meeting. Since then, the two organizations have partnered up on everything from serving veterans to joint marketing efforts to youth programming.

“It’s really across the board,” Avery said.

The entities had their first-ever joint meeting March 28. Healy made the trip down from Richmond to offer remarks to members, elected officials and other attendees. She said she spoke about business-driven communities, as well as the power of partnerships.

Healy said she also noted the importance of diversifying the Hampton Roads economy, so the region won’t have to rely on the military and the federal government to provide jobs and economic activity. She stressed the important of paying workers more and “moving people to getting jobs where they can support a family.”

Avery wanted to specify the partnership is not a formal merger. He added he doesn’t want members to think the relationship is being forced upon them.

“It’s really about us coming together with a stronger voice,” he said.

Healy said she admired the innovation on display during her visit to Hampton Roads. She hopes the partnership model will inspire other workforce boards to collaborate across the state, adding it might work very well for Northern Virginia.

“Having the same playbook is really big,” she said.

The two workforce boards are responsible for directing workforce development funding and programs in Hampton Roads, according to their websites.