GO Virginia Aims to Grow Workforce in Region 2 with Pipeline of Talent Projects

GO Virginia Region 2’s pipeline of talent projects is helping to connect people to jobs and internships and teaching students about the opportunities they have in the region, with the goals of retaining talent in the region and growing Virginia’s economy. GO Virginia Region 2 has funded 10 talent initiatives and has allocated $1,623,506 million in funds for the projects, serving a total of 234 businesses and 7,882 students.

GO Virginia Region 2 also participates as support for a statewide GO Virginia initiative called Virginia Bio-Connect, which is led by GO Virginia Region 4 and directed by the Virginia Biotechnology Association. The project also includes participation from GO Virginia Regions 5, 7, and 9.

In December 2020, the GO Virginia State Board approved $1,599,653 in state funds for Virginia Bio-Connect, which is leveraging a total of $2,335,310.

The project has three goals: increase connection in the life sciences ecosystem, bolster talent and workforce, and support entrepreneurship.

Troy Keyser, Director of Carilion Innovation at Carilion Clinic, co-leads the Region 2 effort with Robert Gibson, Associate Director of Business Development at LINK, which is based at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.

“We hope the Virginia Bio-Connect project will be able to create serendipitous moments where like-minded individuals and companies can connect, share their knowledge, and collaborate on projects and initiatives,” said Keyser.

“This project provides an opportunity to network and engage with regional leaders in Virginia that we may have not otherwise been able to work with,” he said.

The project assists early-stage companies in the invention development stage by helping them turn their ideas into a reality. An example of such a company is Metistream, a natural language processing application that uses data science to unearth information from medical notes.

“We look forward to working with exciting new companies for the benefit of our communities,” said Keyser.

Virginia Bio-Connect will also create an internship program and a Young Professionals network, which will help close the talent gap for life science companies in the state of Virginia.

“The internship development part of the project allows students to see what it is like to work in a laboratory and gain hands-on experience,” said Keyser.

“Students often do not know what’s available in Virginia and we lose talent to other states,” said John Newby, CEO of the Virginia Biotechnology Association. “Through the internship program and the young professional network, we hope to not only keep talent but attract it as well.”

Virginia has a number of life science companies, including two successful clinical stage companies, Charlottesville company HemoShear Therapeutics Inc. and Blacksburg company Landos Biopharma, Inc. It can be difficult for life sciences companies to grow due to regulatory hurdles and this initiative aims to support smaller life sciences companies and help them harness their full potential by providing talent and creating connectivity.

Virginia Bio-Connect will offer virtual mentorship to young entrepreneurs through a virtual entrepreneur-in-residence network. These entrepreneurs-in-residence will mentor life science companies across the state of Virginia irrespective of location. In the past, support from entrepreneurs-in-residence was not offered virtually and this new program will be able to reach a wider array of companies across the Commonwealth.

“With this initiative, we want to show that Virginia has a supportive life science ecosystem with interconnected companies and organizations that are working together,” Newby said.

Another project working to retain talent in the region is the Experiential Learning in Tech Employment (ELITE) Internship Program. The Region 2 project grew out of a need for more technology experience in the region, and works to help businesses in the technology sector more easily attract talent from local universities, a valuable resource for businesses.

This project focuses on assisting small to midsize businesses who may not have the resources to host an internship program. Two Professional Internship Organizations, the Exelaration Center and MAXX Potential, will help connect interns and apprentices to local businesses and give them the opportunity to work on technology projects.

“As individuals graduate from intern and apprenticeship programs, the company they have been working with may extend employment. It is our hope this program will become an employment resource within our region,” said John Phillips, President of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council and leader of the ELITE Internship Program.

“This program allows these companies to find many ways to interact with our universities to discover talent and that’s what we want to see. There are many opportunities in the region for both students and businesses,” he said.

The Destination for Talent Program, led by Catherine Amelink, works with Virginia Tech students and faculty and seeks to bring awareness of the long-term career opportunities that exist in Region 2.

The program connects local employers with Virginia Tech students who can take advantage of paid internships while completing coursework. The program also connects employers with faculty. Through the program, faculty can consider project-based learning opportunities inside and outside of the classroom and local employers are given another opportunity to build their brand with a pool of talent.

Other activities include programming that makes students aware of the live-work-play opportunities in the region while they are participating in their internships, so there is a greater likelihood of talent retention as students graduate.

“There’s a lot of opportunities with local employers that would enable young talent to develop desirable workforce skills but our students tend to overlook these opportunities or lack awareness of them and go elsewhere,” Amelink said.

Projects such as IGNITE and Classrooms to Careers focus on preparing the younger generation for the workforce. The IGNITE program, through the United Way of Southwest Virginia, hosts an annual Careers Expo for 7th grade students where students learn about careers and occupations in the Southwest Virginia region as they are developing their Academic Career Plans. The event was shifted online in 2020 and allowed for other grades, including high school students, to participate.

Classrooms to Careers introduces high school students to careers in IT, walks them through the application process, and places them in IT roles. “The earlier we can expose students to careers in STEM and Information Technology the more likely they are to consider it and see it as something that they can do,” said Mark Husband, Director of CTE and Virtual Learning at Montgomery County Public Schools.

“The myriad of talent projects that are taking place in GO Virginia Region 2 encourage individuals to be aware of the opportunities they have around them and take advantage of the resources they have available. The projects are providing individuals with valuable work experience and preparing them for future careers,” said John Provo, director of the Office of Economic Development.

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