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Area Leaders Converge for Build Virginia Workforce Development Brainstorming Session

Hanover, Va. - Local, regional, and state leaders gathered in Hanover on May 10th for a Workforce Development Area Meeting. Held at Specialty’s Our Name (SON) Metal Fab, the meeting was a part of the Build VA initiative and fostered discussions around training, recruiting, and retaining an effective workforce.

More than fifty individuals representing the small business community, K-12 education, higher education, local economic development, training providers, as well as, elected officials from state and local governments were present at the event focused on meeting the present and future needs of business and industry.

Beginning the event, SON Metal Fab’s Owner, Utley Harrison, said “For small businesses like ours to survive, we must we work together on all levels of government to ensure we are training our citizens for careers in industries such as ours, that are truly in demand.

As the second generation of ownership in his family business, Harrison explained the challenges and opportunities surrounding workforce issues in his 35-employee metal fabrication and machining business.

Co-hosted by the Virginia Rural Center and the Governor’s Chief Workforce Advisor, Megan Healy, the meeting featured several key stakeholders involved in workforce development in the Commonwealth. Elected officials in attendance included: Senator Frank Ruff, Chairman of the Virginia Rural Caucus, Delegate Buddy Fowler, Delegate Chris Peace, Hanover Supervisor Wayne Hazzard, Hanover Supervisor Angela Kelly-Wiecek. Representatives from Senator Ryan McDougle’s office and Senator Jennifer McClellan’s also attended the meeting. Alan Abbott, planning commission representative from Ashland also attended the meeting.

Senator Frank Ruff, Chairman of the Virginia Rural Caucus, described the need for a trained workforce across all of Virginia, including how the Virginia Rural Center can help address the need.

“Our goal is to bring everyone to the table and discuss innovative solutions, while choosing locations that will allow us to see these issues firsthand, and hopefully allow it to fully resonate with everyone,” said Ruff. “The development of the skilled trades workforce is one of the Rural Center’s priorities.”

The Honorable Megan Healy, Ph.D., Chief Workforce Development Advisor to the Governor, along with Tracey Sloan, the Director of Workforce Development at the Virginia Department of Transportation facilitated discussion at the event.

“Across the Commonwealth, there are thousands of high-paying, quality jobs available in industries like shipbuilding, construction, and manufacturing,” said Healy. “Build Virginia will help raise awareness about these lucrative opportunities, highlight affordable ways to gain in-demand skills, and meet the current and future hiring needs of Virginia’s employers.”

While at the meeting, Sloan explained the goals of Build Virginia, including: identifying the demand of skilled workers in Build Virginia sectors at the state and regional levels, creating and implementing an outreach plan to attract new, mid-career, and future workers, as well as, developing and endorsing pathways and programs that lead to career and business success.

“All Virginians will have the opportunity to have the right skills to meet the current and future needs of new collar jobs in the construction, trades, shipbuilding, advanced manufacturing and energy sectors,” said Sloan. “Virginia will be the leader in workforce for these industries.”

Through discussion facilitated by Healy, meeting participants evaluated what areas Build Virginia is getting right, what areas can be improved, and how they can begin Build Virginia initiatives in their region.

The small group discussions produced several suggestions, such as, launching messaging campaigns to reduce the sigma surrounding construction, manufacturing, and other blue collar careers, as well as, continuing to bring together education and industry stakeholders to address workforce needs.

At the conclusion of the event, attendees toured the metal fabrication and machining operation, furthering their understanding of the diverse workforce needs in the Commonwealth.

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