Even as the economy has begun to recover, the emerging job market represents a new challenge. Prior to the pandemic, many employers had hundreds or thousands of open positions and were in need of skilled workers.

The shortage of skilled labor is even worse now that the economy is recovering. At the same time, thousands of Virginians, who are ready to reskill and return to work, are struggling to match their qualifications to the available jobs.

In response to this unprecedented convergence of needs, VA Ready CEO Caren Merrick convened the inaugural Northern Virginia Partner Summit Meeting on May 25th. Executives from eight of these strategic Northern Virginia partners, including Bank of America, Dominion Energy, EY, Genworth, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, SAIC and Stride, gathered to discuss VA Ready’s impact in the region and the changes still needed in the hiring process so companies can find the talent they need to reboot Virginia’s economy.

The partners discussed key employment issues and workforce trends, as well as the best ways they can come together to address them. Ahead are the three takeaways from the meeting and their implications for VA Ready Scholars going forward.

  1. Companies need to specify what skill sets they’re looking for

One of the most important lessons this past year has taught us is the value of adaptability, and workforce needs are no different. As companies look to hire new employees, their needs are constantly changing based on technology and current events, and the training and certifications required will likewise need to adapt. The relationship between companies and community colleges is an essential part of the VA Ready model, as education needs to be informed by up-to-date industry demand to ensure Scholars graduate with the skills needed to secure a job.

  1. The four-year degree requirement no longer applies

Most partners were in agreement that the traditional four-year college degree is an antiquated requirement that glosses over the importance of whether or not an applicant is qualified to do the job. Looking at the skills gap in many industries, such as tech, there is less of a need for applicants with a degree in computer engineering than there is for employees who understand and are trained in the systems and programming languages they’re using on a daily basis. That knowledge isn’t confined to a degree program, and expecting every applicant to have a bachelor’s degree narrows the talent pool significantly. This conclusion echoes VA Ready’s mission: to give every Virginian, regardless of their background or education, the chance to reskill and secure an in-demand job.

  1. There should be an employment network in place to ensure Scholars find the right job

One of the key distinguishers between VA Ready and other programs is the focus on job placement, which is why all of the partners placed an emphasis on their combined capabilities as a significant percentage of the employers in Northern Virginia. By working together, they would be able to recommend every VA Ready graduate to the appropriate company based on skills and needs. There was a consensus that better communication among partners about workforce demand and requirements would be beneficial to VA Ready’s job placement rate and help guarantee that Scholars get back to work expediently.

The overarching conclusion that all partners came to was this: there is still much work to be done, but VA Ready’s model of connecting Virginians with community colleges to receive certifications for in-demand jobs is the best way to build Virginia’s future workforce. VA Ready Scholars emerge prepared to meet the needs of business partners and are able to change their lives for the better through determination and hard work, and further collaboration on all sides is the key to bringing opportunity and prosperity to the Commonwealth.