There have been many changes to the workforce development system in our region over the past few years. With this in mind, we wanted to take a moment to reintroduce ourselves as Virginia Career Works – Blue Ridge and share a little bit about what we are up to.

As our regional unemployment rate nears 2%, we serve a very different role than we did a few years ago, but our work is no less vital. There is still a significant skills gap that keeps individuals from being able attain the career they want and inhibits businesses from being able to grow like they would like to. Further, our workforce participation rate, while not terrible, could be higher. These facts combine to mean we have individuals who are still struggling to find self-sufficiency and businesses who are missing out on opportunities.

We serve the dual purpose of helping those individuals get the skills they need to be successful and helping businesses grow and upskill their workforces. So, what does all this look like?

With regards to individuals, we take a very hands-on and supportive approach. We work with the individual to help determine their needs, interests and capacities. Once we know this information, we can dig into what options are available to them. This may include helping these individuals go through training or it may just mean connecting them with new employment opportunities. Either way, our goal is to help that individual achieve their goals and get into a career that suits their abilities.

Similarly, when we are working with businesses, it all starts with listening to their particular needs. We are always looking to dig deeper and learn more about what they are dealing with in order to craft a customized plan for success. This may include helping with existing worker training or providing connections with partner agencies that can help meet specific needs or, even, offering consultative services about how to reach new populations. Every situation is different. So, we strive to help each business meet their unique workforce needs.

In additional to these services, Virginia Career Works – Blue Ridge is also the facilitator of the workforce development system in the region. We convene our partner agencies to help build stronger relationships and a more cohesive system. There is so much work to be done in this space and only by working together can we best meet the needs our region’s businesses and individuals.

This collaborative spirit is exemplified in our three One-Stop Centers. In each of these locations, we co-locate with our partners to ensure that our clients have access to a number of resources in one place. When an individual or business walks through the door, we endeavor to ensure that they are getting as many of their needs met as possible.

Finally, we are also acutely aware that the skills gap needs to also be addressed by engaging with our workforce of the future while they are still in school. To this end, we have working hard to expose more young people to the career pathways that are available to them. Further, we are helping facilitate the growth and improvement in career and technical education opportunities across the region and connecting the school systems more closely with our area businesses. This is a crucial part of ensuring that we will have an appropriately skilled workforce for years to come.

As we look ahead, we see that there is much more to be done. Each year we serve thousands of individuals, but there are many more that could benefit. No matter the state of the economy, the need for workforce development never seems to go away. The in-demand professions are always changing and people will always need training. It is our goal to turn this region into a place where individuals have the support they need to achieve the career they want and businesses have the employees needed to allow them to grow and thrive.