United Way of SWVA creating major community collaborations to strengthen tomorrow’s workforce

Article 11/11 in the Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce written series by United Way of Southwest Virginia.

October 1, 2017 (Abingdon, VA) – There’s a gap between the worlds of learning and work in Southwest Virginia, and we are doing something – something big – about it.

Since May, United Way of Southwest Virginia has published eleven articles in the written “Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce” series, of which this article is the concluding piece. The series was created to shed light on the gap between the worlds of learning and work in our region. United Way featured human interest stories of local workers discussing topics that specifically affect our workforce in Southwest Virginia such as local livable-wage jobs, local innovation, the value of working at an early age, the uniqueness of the community college system, and combining passion with skill – just to name a few.

Stephen Moret, President and CEO, Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), speaks to area leaders about current workforce solutions during Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce: The Leaders’ Breakfast.

We promised that our last article would provide an overview of actions being taken by United Way of Southwest Virginia to bridge the gap between the worlds of learning and work to strengthen the workforce of tomorrow. What we did not expect was to be able to include an overview of actions being taken by other organizations as well.

On September 27, 2017, well-known regional leaders, Steve Smith (President/CEO of Food City), Alan Levine (President/CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance), and Travis Staton (President and CEO of United Way of Southwest Virginia), brought together superintendents, workforce investment boards, CEOs, legislators, administrators, and other top leaders from the region. “Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce: The Leaders’ Breakfast” was held at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon and focused on bridging the gap between the worlds of learning and work in Southwest Virginia.

Guest speaker Stephen Moret, President and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), presented several goals to improve Virginia’s role as a workforce and economic leader – including a goal to ensure that every region in Virginia participates in the growth of the Commonwealth. During his presentation, Moret said, “We’re not going to judge our [state’s] success based on the Commonwealth as a whole, but we’re going to judge our success based on how each of the regions does as well.” United Way of Southwest Virginia is doing its part to help Moret “position this region for growth” by focusing on the workforce of tomorrow, helping establish Southwest Virginia and the rest of the Commonwealth as a workforce and economic leader.

Steve Smith, President/CEO of Food City, co-hosts Operation Tomorrows Workforce: The Leaders’ Breakfast with Alan Levine, President/CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance and Travis Staton, President and CEO of United Way of Southwest Virginia.

The event was moderated by Scott Robertson, Managing Editor of The Business Journal of Tri-Cities Tennessee/Virginia, who has supported the Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce initiative by running the written series. Robertson recently wrote an editorial about the shift in United Way of Southwest Virginia’s focus “into the business side of community impact” to begin addressing workforce issues through initiatives that help fill the gap between learning and work.

Travis Staton, President and CEO of United Way of Southwest Virginia said, “United Way understands that it takes everyone uniting for the same cause to make the most impact. So, when I say ‘we’ have created the solution, I don’t mean only United Way of Southwest Virginia – ‘we’ means Southwest Virginia. Southwest Virginia has united to create a solution to address the gap between learning and work.”

That solution, revealed at the breakfast, is the expansion of United Way of Southwest Virginia’s Ignite Program, a partnership bridging schools and employers.

The Ignite Program was created in 2016 to fill a community void in response to the gap between learning and work in the region, and is backed by data at the national, state, regional, and local levels. With the support of schools, employers, and cross-sector leadership, the Ignite Program has expanded from serving 1,000 students in 3 pilot schools across 3 school districts, to over 29,000 students in 86 schools across 16 school districts.

This expansion takes the Ignite Program to scale across the entire United Way of Southwest Virginia service area (approximately 15% of the state) to invest in the next generation of Southwest Virginia’s workforce through career awareness and hands-on learning.

Seventh grade students from Tazewell County, VA operate Appalachian Power equipment as part of the Careers Expo for Youth offered to 4,000+ students from across the region.

Career awareness components of the Ignite Program are a web-based software for self-exploration and planning for over 29,000 students in grades 6-12, Educators in Industry teacher tours of employers for sixth grade teachers, and a Careers Expo for Youth immersive awareness experience for over 4,000 seventh grade students.

During the breakfast, a recap video was shown of the 2017 Careers Expo for Youth, which had begun the day before and continued as the breakfast was taking place.

Hands-on learning components of the Ignite Program include soft skills curriculum for students in grades 6-12 and money management Reality Check financial simulations for over 4,000 eighth grade students. United Way of Southwest Virginia is also planning to partner with employers in the coming year to pilot apprenticeships through a summer youth work program. This apprenticeship component is currently in research and development and has not yet been funded by community investments.

Alan Levine, President/CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance said during the event, “We’ve got to figure out how to come together and support the United Way and efforts like this to present these opportunities to our students. The time is now to invest in our future.”

Article 11/11. The written “Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce” series was created by United Way of Southwest Virginia. The introductory article was released in May 2017, with nine articles to be released online on the first and third Sundays from May-September, and published in various print publications across the region. Each of the nine articles will share the stories of local workers around topics that specifically affect Southwest Virginia such as local livable-wage jobs, local innovation, the value of working at an early age, the uniqueness of the community college system, and combining passion with skill. The last article will provide an overview of actions being taken by United Way of Southwest Virginia to bridge the gap between the worlds of learning and work to strengthen the workforce of tomorrow. To keep up with the full series of articles, or for more information about United Way of Southwest Virginia’s initiatives to equip tomorrow’s workforce, visit UnitedWaySWVA.org.

Read the other articles in this series
Learn about our initiative to equip tomorrow’s workforce
Get involved with the Careers Expo for Youth

About United Way of Southwest Virginia
United Way of Southwest Virginia fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Southwest Virginia because they are the building blocks for a good quality of life. Through an initiative-based cradle-to-career approach, United Way of Southwest Virginia is creating sustainable solutions to address the challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce. United Way convenes cross-sector partners to make an impact on the most complex problems in our region. Through collaboration with government, business, nonprofit and individuals, United Way innovates for positive, lasting social change. With a footprint that covers almost 15% of the state of Virginia, United Way of Southwest Virginia serves Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington and Wise, and the cities of Galax and Norton. For more information about United Way of Southwest Virginia, visit UnitedWaySWVA.org.