This column from Executive Director Christina Winn originally appeared in the Washington Business Journal.
Ten years ago, economic development departments could focus on real estate first and rely on the appeal of good jobs to attract talent to our localities. Economic developers today, when pitching for a big project or proposal, are now faced with initial questions about labor availability from business owners and potential investors. We saw this proven over the COVID-19 pandemic, when the talent pipeline was disrupted as workforce moved to locations that best suited their life, not always their job.
Economic developers need to emphasize and plan for workforce development and talent attraction more than ever before. Investing in employer training as well as upskilling and reskilling for our community jobseekers is paramount as labor availability becomes a make-or-break topic of the next decade.
Prince William County has almost 500,000 residents and over 10,000 employers, large and small. Like much of the Greater Washington D.C. region, our citizens and employers were hit hard by the pandemic – our unemployment spiked in early 2020 and settled back to pre-pandemic levels of 2.8% in September 2023.
Through these tumultuous times, we have sought innovative ways to better align our public services to best serve our communities – most importantly, aligning our economic development initiatives with programs from our region’s workforce development professionals at the Virginia Career Works Northern Region. Our realignment of two traditionally separate public service strategies has resulted in our collective successes emerging from the pandemic chaos and will influence our work going forward.
Our strategy is called the ELEVATE Initiative. I am pleased to note that our program was recognized by the Virginia Economic Developers Association for our innovative approach to realigning our economic development and workforce initiatives.
Prince William County’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism allocated critically important funds to provide direct workforce training and support to Prince William County job seekers impacted by the pandemic, along with ongoing hiring and training assistance for Prince William County employers who are seeking to recover from earlier staffing losses.
ELEVATE is a unique workforce development solution demonstrating Prince William County’s commitment to helping residents and employers. The strength of our community is in the businesses that locate in the county and the people they employ. We want to ensure that employers can attract the talent they need and that their employees earn the wages they deserve.
COVID-impacted job seekers can apply to skills training programs, support services and career assistance to move into today’s in-demand jobs. Moreover, ELEVATE helps employers upskill their current workers to enhance their company’s competitiveness while also identifying their best new hires for continued growth. To date, over 600 county job seekers have participated in this initiative, with more than 275 contacts with county employers.
Khrystyna Golkin, director of human resources at restoration and remodeling company Paul Davis, said the company was able to take advantage of the ELEVATE program and get assistance with covering the costs for the training in 2023. Paul Davis was able to train almost half of the company on OSHA 10 and/or OSHA 30 workplace safety this year, “which is critical for our business, the safety of our employees and customers.”
“In addition to that, we hosted two industry-specific classes for our field personnel and were able to get them all certified this year, which supported our efforts to improve emergency services of our company” Golkin said. “It has been a pleasure to work with Bobby Mahon and Prince William government this year and we are looking forward to continuing our partnership with them in the coming years.”
The Prince William County Service Authority also has participated in many successful events with the ELEVATE program, said Hilary Smith, human resources manager.
“Not only have we reached potential job candidates through career fairs, such as active-duty military transitioning out of service, but we have also made valuable connections with individuals who are interested in construction and trades,” she said. “The Service Authority took advantage of ELEVATE’s On-the-Job Training (OJT) program, allowing newly hired, qualified employees to receive the necessary training and supervision. In return, the Service Authority was reimbursed for 50% of the employee’s training wage rate. Our partnership with ELEVATE has increased our organization’s ability to engage with our diverse community and attract quality candidates.”
The ELEVATE Initiative is scheduled to operate through October 2024. Prince William County and the Virginia Career Works Northern Region are seeking Prince William County employers interested in partnering with us. Please go to www.pwcded.org/ELEVATE for more details.
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