Grant will help local workforce organization focus on filling maritime positions


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Recently-acquired grant money will help a regional workforce organization fill the gaps in maritime labor shortages in the area.

The Hampton Roads Workforce Council received $6663,696 from GO Virginia, a state-funded initiative through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

The money, along with matched funds of $332,000 from the workforce council, will go toward the organization’s Talent Development program that’s focused on filling maritime jobs in Hampton Roads.

“We have a vision and I think we’re on the right path to solving it,” said Whitney Lester, who is the senior director of talent development for the workforce council.

Lester says last year, the organization commissioned a study on the region’s workforce and talent and found a growing labor shortage, as well as opportunities to build on it.

In response, the Hampton Roads Talent Alignment Strategy was formed.

“We architected a plan and its tool kit features 27 initiatives and programs all focused on the three pillars of talent — development, attraction, retention — as well as assessment and evaluation,” he said.

Two months ago, Lester says GO Virginia also awarded them money to launch an initiatve to keep talented college graduates in the area.

Lester says the most recent grant money will go toward expanding a team that will be able to work on employer engagement, discerning demand signals in the maritime industry, data and business intelligence. It will also work on mapping training and education offerings to learn what businesses need, not just in the region today, but for years to come.

Despite many industries taking a hit during COVID-19, Lester says the maritime industry was one of the few that’s been actively seeking employment.

“The maritime industry did not suffer great losses when COVID first hit,” he said. “It has rolled on. One of the prominent shipyards, their page … was saying they’re ‘hiring not firing.’ We’re really looking to get people into these sustainable careers here. These are good-paying jobs. A lot of times it’s just a credential and a little experience to launch them and that’s where the workforce council would come in.

Lester says they’ll also work with K-12 programs as well as higher education to help fill the gaps but the maritime industry isn’t just limited to shipbuilding. He also mentioned the Port of Virginia, offshore wind industry and Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Expansion project as places they’ll also look to help fill jobs.

He’s excited for the future and says after building a successful system with the maritime industry, they’ll hopefully move onto others such as cybersecurity and healthcare.

Having an initiative like this is important to the region because it will not only get more people to work but bring businesses here.

“When there are labor shortages, there are these chronic hard-to-fill positions that go unfilled and sometimes they move to other markets if we can’t fill them. As economic development entities look to attract businesses to the region, if they get a sense we can’t fill positions we have, that’s definitely a deterrent to come to the region,” he said about stopping the issue now to create a talent pipeline.

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