Virginia’s workforce development system has a new brand

Inside Business, January 24, 2018
By Sandra Pennecke

Virginia’s workforce development system has a new brand to help in its quest to put Virginians to work.

The system, which consists of state and local partners and 62 one-stop career centers, will be dubbed Virginia Career Works.

Shawn Avery, president and CEO of Opportunity Inc., was on the advisory committee that drove the initiative.

“As we become more laser focused on connecting job seekers to meaningful employment opportunities in Hampton Roads, it is important that we create greater synergy with workforce and economic organizations across the commonwealth,” Avery said. “The efforts taken to unify Virginia’s workforce development system were both strategic and collaborative and I was pleased to represent our region in the development process.”

Avery said he looks forward to the benefits the statewide branding initiative will afford Opportunity Inc. (Hampton Roads’ workforce development board), in terms of greater awareness, support and resources for its One-Stop Workforce Centers and the job seekers it serves.

Local workforce boards will incorporate the new brand on their websites, social media sites, business resources and signage in the next nine months. Federal funds will be used to help local partners with the expenses related to the change.

The branding process, which took place over the course of six months, was a collaboration of efforts between workforce, education and economic development leaders from throughout the state.

According to a news release from the governor’s office, market research was used as an integral part of the process from start to finish.

“Having a unified brand for Virginia’s workforce development system is a critical, but positive, step in our efforts to have a trained and ready-to-hire human talent pool in Virginia,” Todd Haymore, secretary of commerce and trade, said in the release.

Haymore said employers are looking to fill more than 150,000 high-quality jobs throughout the state and will need to fill about 1.5 million jobs in the next 10 years.

“To leverage fully that growth, our workforce system must engage and develop that talent with the skills to fill those jobs,” Haymore said.

This article was featured in Inside Business

Hampton is site for health care job fair on June 8

Inside Business, May 18, 2017
By: Sandra Pennecke

Potential employees in the health care field can connect and network with employers at an upcoming health care job fair.

The free event is from 9 a.m. to noon June 8 at the Peninsula Workforce Development Center, 600 Butler Farm Road, Hampton.

“This fair provides us with another opportunity to partner with other workforce development organizations that share our commitment to strengthening the region’s workforce,” said Shawn Avery, president and CEO of Opportunity Inc. “Last year, we placed more than 50 percent of our job seekers into health care positions and this event supports our continued efforts to meet employer demands in this growing industry cluster.”

Along with more than 30 health care employers including Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, Commonwealth Senior Living, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Southeastern Virginia Health System and Veteran Affairs Medical Center, the fair will also offer education and veteran resources.

Attendees are encouraged to dress professionally and bring their resume.

“We have had tremendous turnout in the past and the feedback on a trade specific event like this has been very positive from the business partners who participate, as well as the job seekers,” said Lisa Zahralddin, assistant vice president for the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development.

The job fair is presented by Opportunity Inc. (Hampton Roads’ Workforce Development Board) in partnership with the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development, Virginia Employment Commission, Job Assistance Center, LLC. and Thomas Nelson Workforce Development. To learn more visit

Three best practices for effective workforce and economic development collaboration | Expert column

By: Shawn Avery
May 15, 2017, Inside Business

Enhancing the economic vitality of our region is a shared vision across Hampton Roads. We are fortunate to have a number of organizations committed to workforce and economic development initiatives, which helps to ensure the prosperity of our economy.

More than ever, we are poised to facilitate meaningful employment for residents in Hampton Roads and highly-skilled talent for growing industry clusters; but, historically, we have missed the mark on effective collaboration. Every thought leader or decision maker takes a different approach to advance workforce development efforts, but with the same objective in mind – a flourishing economy.

To reach the proverbial tipping point, workforce and economic development organizations within our region must engage in strategic partnerships, and work alongside business, education and community stakeholders to develop a highly skilled workforce capable of meeting the demands of 21st century jobs.

We have seen an uptick in collaborative efforts throughout our region, such as the recent establishment of the Hampton Roads Regional Chamber Alliance. The following offer three great examples of additional best practices we should consider moving forward.

“Zoom out” and think beyond sub regions

Earlier this year, Opportunity Inc., Hampton Roads’ Workforce Development Board, convened several partners, including the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development and Reinvent Hampton Roads, to spark conversation about how to best support the workforce needs of employers and jobseekers across the entire region, not just on the Peninsula or the Southside.

As a result of this conversation, the recently released Hampton Roads State of the Workforce report was completed. This study provides an assessment of the labor force and employment trends from a regional perspective.

Through this consortium of organizations, we gained a better understanding of our workforce needs to make more informed, data-driven decisions in our efforts to improve worker skill development, job creation and economic opportunities.

Collaborate with localities to provide more services for employers and job seekers

Norfolk Works, a city of Norfolk job center that provides resources for city residents, partners with Opportunity Inc. as one of 60 Career Access Network locations designed to connect job seekers to employment opportunities. In addition, both organizations have teamed together to support hiring efforts for several new businesses – helping to screen qualified applicants and schedule interviews for more than 1,500 job seekers interested in employment at companies such as ADP, Waterside Live, and Lidl.

This is just one example of the benefit with partnering with the cities and counties of Hampton Roads. Opportunity Inc. has similar programs in Chesapeake, Franklin, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, Southampton, Suffolk and Virginia Beach tailored to meet the individual workforce needs of those localities’ business and citizens.

Align workforce initiatives with education and training programs

 Gov. Terry McAulliffe recently announced a $25,000 grant to Tidewater Community College and Opportunity Inc. from the national Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. This pilot project is designed to expand the adult learner pipeline into postsecondary credential attainment for military students, as well as adult populations. Virginia’s TCC-Opportunity Inc. partnership is one of only four in the nation selected for the project, the others being Philadelphia, Miami and Seattle.

Integrating education and training resources with workforce programs is the real gamechanger to ensure talent to support increasing employer demands. Further, workforce and economic development organizations should continue to forge new partnerships with the education community to facilitate the training, education and certifications required for high-wage, high-demand jobs.

This is an exciting time of progress for workforce and economic development initiatives in Hampton Roads. The influx of new and the expansion of exisiting businesses presents greater opportunities for job seekers; and the projected growth of high-demand industries, such as logistics and warehousing, advanced manufacating, cybersecurity and life sciences also suggests increased labor force growth.

With this continued synergy among all parties invested in strengthening our regional workforce, the economic future for Hampton Roads is bright and full of promise.

Shawn Avery is president and CEO of Opportunity Inc.,

Analysis: Eight industries make up 16 percent of the Hampton Roads gross regional product

May 1, 2017, Inside Business

More than 150 business leaders, educators and economic development decision makers attended a gathering in mid-April to hear the 2017 State of the Workforce and Gap Analysis.

A consortium of workforce development organizations including Opportunity Inc., Peninsula Council for Workforce Development, Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance and ReInvent Hampton Roads shared the findings which were presented by the Hampton Roads Workforce Partners.

The regional report revealed a detailed assessment of economic and employment trends in the area in the eight key industries: advanced manufacturing, ship repair and ship building, food and beverage manufacturing, port operations, life sciences, business and consulting services, information analytics and security and tourism.

The report showed that the examined industry clusters make up close to 16 percent of the gross regional product in Hampton Roads.

“This collaborative effort marks a new day for Hampton Roads, in terms of our ability to partner on workforce development initiatives across the region,” Shawn Avery, president and CEO of Opportunity Inc. said in a news release. “We commissioned this study to give us a baseline of historical data, which we can now reference as we work to close the skills gap to ensure we have the talent to support high-demand jobs in our area.”

Matthew James, president and CEO of the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development, said this is the first time, since he’s been in Hampton Roads, that they now have the data needed to identify strengths and weaknesses from a regional perspective.

“We must continue thinking beyond sub regions and work together to best support employers and jobseekers,” James said.

Rick Weddle, president and CEO of Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance said the study enables them to get serious about business attraction and growth rather than training quality workers for other regions.

The State of the Workforce report gave a clear description into the region’s assets relating to the workforce and highlighted data to improve worker skill development, job creation and overall economic opportunities.

“We are very appreciative of the Workforce Development Boards for the State of the Workforce and Gap Analysis. It illuminates the work that needs to be done in this important element of economic development and regional prosperity,” Bryan Stephens, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber said. “As succinctly stated by Jim Spore, president and CEO of ReInvent Hampton Roads during the briefing, there are only three ways to create new jobs; entrepreneurship, growth from existing businesses and recruiting new businesses into the region. The Hampton Roads Chamber is proud to play a major role in setting the conditions for all three means of job creation to occur.”

Featured Article: Allfirst Utilizing Incumbent Worker Grant to Train Existing Employees

Virginia Ship Repair Association, April 2017

By: Steve Cook, Vice President of Workforce Innovation, Opportunity, Inc.

In June 2016, Opportunity Inc., in partnership with Tidewater Community College, received a $150,000 grant to develop customize training for businesses to help support their incumbent workforce.  The Hampton Roads Incumbent Worker Innovation Grant (IWT) provides employee training for small to medium-sized business in high-demand areas such as Warehousing and Logistics, Advance Manufacturing, and Transportation as well as Energy, Information Technology, Cybersecurity, and Construction trades.  Congratulations to Allfirst, LLC – the first recipient of the grant.  Allfirst, a Suffolk-based business industrial general contractor, has used the grant’s training to improve the welding skills for 10 of its employees.

Do you need training for your employees?  Can your company use assistance with funding for the training of those employees?  If you answered yes to one of these questions, maybe we can assist – Tidewater Community College provides the credential based training and Opportunity Inc will provide up to a 50% reimbursement of the training costs for each employee, not to exceed $1,800.

If your employees need training to support their continued employment or to enhance their skill sets to meet new job requirements, the IWT   grant could be your answer to help with those training costs.  For more details about the grant please call:

  • Jackie Rondeau, Business Services Coordinator with Opportunity Inc., (757) 461-7537 ext. 361
  • Jennifer Palestrant, Business Development Specialist at Tidewater Community College,

(757) 822-7669

It doesn’t cost anything to ask and you might find that you qualify for more programs!

About the Author 

Steve Cook is the Vice President of Workforce Innovation for Opportunity Inc., where he is responsible for Business Services. Steve has been employed with Opportunity Inc. for 18 months.

Gov. McAuliffe announces TCC and OppInc. will partner to increase adult-learner pipeline

Hampton Roads Chamber, April 5, 2017

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced March 9 that Tidewater Community College and Opportunity Inc. will receive a $25,000 grant from the national Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) for a pilot project designed to link local workforce systems with community colleges to increase success for adult learners.

Virginia’s TCC-Opportunity Inc. partnership is one of only four in the nation selected for the project, which is designed to expand the adult learner pipeline into postsecondary credential attainment. Philadelphia, Miami and Seattle were selected for other partnerships.

“I am delighted that Tidewater Community College and Opportunity Inc. have joined forces to promote expedited pathways and credit for prior learning and experience to the transitioning service members and other job seekers served by our workforce system,” said Gov. McAuliffe.

“For the past few years, my administration has been working with the General Assembly on successful legislation to award community college credits for military education and experience, for industry certifications and licenses, and, this year, for apprenticeship credentials. Working adults should get every college credit they deserve for the learning and skills they bring to their community college experience, and I’m proud to see Hampton Roads leading this national effort.”

Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd Haymore said, “By reducing the time and cost for adults to earn a community college degree or certificate, the partners in this project are boosting regional education attainment rates and economic development.”

Funded by the Educational Credit Management Corporation, this grant will use prior learning assessment, or experiential learning, to facilitate attainment of postsecondary credits for prior learning, training and education for military students, as well as other adult populations.

Prior learning assessment activities will focus on programs of study leading to priority industry sectors for regional economic development, including automotive and diesel technology, construction, industrial technology, information technology, manufacturing, and maritime and logistics.

These identified industries and related occupations are expected to grow at rates faster than the regional average, creating high-demand for workers and above-average wages.

“Further education is critical for transitioning service members in our Hampton Roads community,” said TCC President Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani. “We look forward to working with Opportunity Inc. on this project, which is another example of how TCC is fulfilling its mission to prepare the region’s 21st century workforce.”

“This partnership with TCC supports our commitment to transitioning veterans into the civilian workforce, and provides an opportunity to develop and leverage the talent unique to Hampton Roads,” said Shawn Avery, CEO of Opportunity Inc., the region’s Workforce Development Board. “Our partnerships with the education and business communities create the synergy critical to ensuring a highly skilled workforce equipped to meet the needs of high-demand careers.”

Tidewater Community College, Opportunity Inc. team up to award college credit for on-the-job training

Inside Business, March 14, 2017
By: Kimberly Pierceall

Up until now, only military training could translate to class credits for Tidewater Community. But a new grant will expand the program to nonacademic on-the-job training.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced March 9 that the community college and workforce board Opportunity Inc. were among four institutions nationwide to win a grant from the National Prior Learning Assessment Project to create an expanded program for one year.

The two are splitting a $25,000 grant. Tidewater Community College spokeswoman Marian Anderfuren said the grant will go toward paying faculty for the additional work of evaluating credits. She said Opportunity Inc. is already working with individuals to convert their work in welding, fiber optics, personal fitness and information technology to college credits.