Front Line: Finding, Creating, and Supporting Talent
By helping to recruit and train workers, the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program gives companies located in Virginia a competitive edge.
That’s the word shared by Steve Presley, chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA, and it’s wisdom with which most successful corporate leaders would agree. Presley says his company found the necessary talent in Virginia, where it moved headquarters operations three years ago.
Finding, creating, and supporting that level of talent is what the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program is all about. It’s a workforce incentive that’s far more than simply a training program, according to Mike Grundmann, who oversees the program as senior vice president of talent solutions for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). Training is imperative, to be sure, but first a company must recruit the right people to benefit from the training.
The program takes aim at both challenges. It’s delivered by VEDP in partnership with higher ed institutions — most commonly a community college that is part of the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). Recruitment and training solutions are fully customized to each client’s unique operations, equipment, standards, and culture, and for those that qualify, all program services are offered at no cost. Considering the impact of the Virginia Talent Accelerator program, it comes as no surprise that Virginia’s workforce development programs were recently ranked No. 2 in the country in Area Development’s annual survey of site selection consultants.
The whole idea is to ease all of the talent-related headaches that arise when an employer chooses a new location or expands an existing one. “Most companies prefer a service-based workforce incentive because it takes the onus of organizing and managing the recruiting and training process off of them,” Grundmann says.
“When a leadership team is starting a new facility, they have a lot competing for their attention — from managing construction schedules and equipment validation to personal things like relocating and settling their own families,” he explains. “Having somebody step in with all the expertise and resources that the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program brings feels like a lifeline to them.”
Training is imperative, to be sure, but first a company must recruit the right people to benefit from the training. Getting Off to a Positive Start
Companies considering locating or expanding in Virginia typically make an initial connection with the program before they make their final location decision. Business development specialists with VEDP often make the introduction, and company leaders may get the chance to check out the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program’s Experience Center, which shows off samples of the program’s work and starts the conversation about how the program might help the company get off to a positive start.
“Once a company chooses Virginia, we immediately make plans for a comprehensive needs analysis,” Grundmann says. “This usually takes place at a company location, where we can observe similar processes and meet with the company’s operations, human resources, and subject-matter experts.”
Virginia Talent Accelerator Program representatives and the company get to work benchmarking best practices and identifying deliverables. “We typically do this in full collaboration with the nearest community college,” Grundmann explains. “Each is stocked with Industry 4.0 training simulators, precision machining, welding, and robotics equipment.”
Manufacturing clients, for example, are always in need of mechatronics technicians, and the VCCS programs deliver them. Virginia Talent Accelerator’s focus is on teaching new production hires how to apply their skills to each company’s own processes, equipment, and procedures.
Companies considering locating or expanding in Virginia typically make an initial connection with the program before they make their final location decision. It’s great for manufacturing clients, but plenty of others, too, from distribution to research and technology development operations to headquarters locations. As long as they intend to make a significant capital investment and create at least 25 new jobs, they’re eligible. They may be companies already operating and growing in Virginia, or those searching across multiple states looking for the right place to land.
How long will the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program stick around to help? The duration of its support is flexible, Grundmann says. “We continue delivering customized recruiting and training services until we’ve fulfilled all the commitments made in our scope of work and our trainee count meets the job creation stated in the project announcement.”
A typical project could last a couple of years, beginning with analysis and material development work, and extend through the client’s mass hiring. Some projects may wrap up more quickly; others may last longer to support a more gradual ramp-up in hiring.
Helping Smaller Companies — and Metros — Compete
The program was created in 2019, and a key motivator was the need to help Virginia’s rural and smaller metro areas become more competitive for job creation. The very first project was Morgan Olson’s new 703-job delivery van assembly project in the community of Danville, Grundmann says. “The original plan projected that it would take three years for the operation to reach 703 employees. With Virginia Talent Accelerator Program support, Morgan Olson is on track to reach that milestone in half the time.”
Some of the best opportunities for job creation involve smaller expansions of existing manufacturers, he says. For example, Modine Manufacturing Co. wanted to manufacture a new line of data center cooling solutions and was evaluating current locations, including a facility in Virginia’s Rockbridge County.
With help from the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, the company’s recruitment effort included radio ads, a customized jobs landing page, a residential mailer, multichannel job postings, and other recruitment campaigns. As new processes come online, the program provides customized training on Modine’s unique processes and procedures. “The Virginia Talent Accelerator Program’s recruitment team clearly brings a lot of expertise that we don’t have in-house,” says Matt Niebur, Modine’s plant manager. “We’re getting excellent support, and that’s been a huge addition for us.”
Meanwhile, Laminate Technologies Inc. was looking to add capacity and was considering its Virginia and Ohio locations. The Virginia Talent Accelerator Program helped it decide on Virginia, with services involving such things as recruiting through social media and customized, process-specific training. Among those impressed was Connie Bincsik-Hernandez, director of Human Resources: “I’m amazed at the training materials that are being developed — the animations are awesome!”
The program was created in 2019, and a key motivator was the need to help Virginia’s rural and smaller metro areas become more competitive for job creation. Building Upon Its Success
In the first year and a half of the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program’s existence, some 21 companies announced plans to locate in Virginia and tap into the program’s support to create more than 4,000 jobs, Grundmann says. He adds that the impact is, itself, accelerating. Another five projects are expected in the next quarter, with another 1,200 new jobs anticipated.
He notes that this program is just one of the tools in the toolkit for helping new companies. For one thing, the state benefits from highly ranked educational institutions, Grundmann says. Plus, “job creation projects in Virginia have the opportunity to choose between the full-service Virginia Talent Accelerator Program and the grant-based Virginia Jobs Investment Program. Offering a choice like that is unique to Virginia and one of the innovative things we’re doing.”
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