By: Shawn Avery
Inside Business, May 20, 2016
With increasing demand for more qualified workers to meet the needs of the 21st-century job market, it is essential that workforce development programs and resources align with new and emerging job trends.
In March 2016, Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate ticked down 0.1 percentage point to 4.0 – the lowest rate since 3.9 in June 2008. While this decline shows great promise, the workforce must continue to be enhanced to ensure that companies looking to innovate and remain competitive in the global economy have access to highly skilled, trained and qualified workers.
Workforce development efforts aimed at connecting the dots between labor supply and labor demand help to boost and support a dynamic local economy.
Since 1974, Opportunity Inc. – through various iterations – has supported the region’s and Virginia’s economy by integrating workforce development and economic development activities. In March 2016, the Hampton Roads Workforce Development Board – comprised of leaders in business and industry, economic development, community-based organizations and education institutions – passed a resolution designating Opportunity Inc. as the Regional Workforce Development Convener for South and Western Hampton Roads, which includes the cities of Chesapeake, Franklin, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach, and Isle of Wight and Southampton counties.
The region spans nearly 2,000 square miles, encompasses 1.2 million residents, and is home to more than 22,000 businesses. As the regional convener for workforce development, OppInc. will continue leading strategic efforts to facilitate partner engagement, at all levels, to ensure meaningful employment and economic growth for the residents and business within the Hampton Roads region.
To stay competitive in an ever-changing global economy, it is critical to continually assess all workforce development programs and realign and enhance when needed to improve system outcomes for employers, employees and job seekers. This means we must continue to look for barriers to employment, and how to effectively address the needs of the emerging and existing workforce. In one instance, through conversations with job seekers and solicited feedback from employers and business partners, Opportunity Inc. identified two recurring barriers impeding the job search process for the unemployed and underemployed within the region:
1. Access to career-related information
2. Comfort level and confidence among job seekers
From a logistical standpoint, many job seekers struggle with reliable and adequate transportation to community resources, such as the OppInc. One-Stop Workforce Center, which provides assistance with the job search process and access to computers, Internet, telephones and other essential resources. Further, the needs and skill sets of job seekers are extremely diverse and require customized assistance to meet the unique needs of individuals seeking assistance.
Unemployment is a sensitive area for most, as it is so closely connected to financial stability. Job seekers are often intimidated by the process of securing employment and may find it difficult to navigate the Internet or complex job applications – particularly those who have been out of the job market for several years. Alternatively, many job seekers prefer to visit their local library or community center to seek assistance from familiar faces in a more relaxed atmosphere.
After careful consideration of these factors, OppInc. endeavored to create a new strategic resource that would meet people in their own communities to eliminate employment barriers and increase the number of people served.
The Career Access Network
This past Fall, Opportunity Inc. launched the Career Access Network to expand its reach in the community. The network serves as a bridge that connects individuals to essential career and education-related information and services in the cities of Chesapeake, Franklin, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach, as well as the counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton.
The Career Access Network offers a multitude of self-directed career and education exploration resources, job search assistance, labor market information, financial literacy education, and employer recruitment activities – offered at more than 40 locations. Services are provided through a partnership with Opportunity Inc. and local libraries, community organizations, and municipalities.
To date, more than 1,500 people have logged on to the Career Access Network at careeraccessnetwork.org, allowing OppInc. to assist individuals who may not have otherwise utilized traditional services offered through the One-Stop. The Network also has facilitated more programs, workshops and hiring events led by OppInc. staff that reached nearly 300 individuals. As important, the Career Access Network enables OppInc. to expand services offered to employers seeking assistance with hiring skilled and qualified candidates.
Leveraging the network’s job board, employers are able to recruit new employees who are well-trained and qualified for some of the most high-demand industries, including manufacturing, information technology, cybersecurity, health care, and transportation and logistics.
OppInc.’s designation as the regional convener for workforce development reaffirms the organization’s commitment to ensuring a highly skilled labor force through greater employer engagement and new initiatives.
With the support of business and industry, educational institutions, economic development organizations, and all entities with a vested interest in assisting employers and job seekers and strengthening the regional workforce, Opportunity Inc. will continue to implement and deliver innovative, quality services that challenge the status quo, and ultimately bolster the economy in Hampton Roads.
Shawn Avery is president and CEO of Opportunity Inc.