Nancy Dischinat, Executive Director, Lehigh Valley Workforce Development Board Inc.,
Just a few months ago, representatives from the Lehigh Valley’s educational institutions, major employers, and economic development and workforce agencies gathered in the meeting room of the Lehigh Valley Workforce Development Board (LVWDB), rolled up their sleeves, and got to work.
This unprecedented partnership marked the inaugural meeting of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) Education and Talent Supply Council, a group of stakeholders from various entities all sharing the same goal: developing current workforce supply and demand data, and creating and executing regional strategies that help maintain a workforce and talent supply.
“The availability of trained workers is now the number one factor driving company locations, even more so than the total operating costs,” said Don Cunningham, President and CEO of LVEDC. “The regions that best solve the talent supply equations are the ones that will score the big wins in economic development competition.”
In addition to LVEDC and the LVWDB, this council includes representatives from the Lehigh Valley’s wide array of educational institutions including research universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, school districts and career and technological schools, as well as major regional employers like Ocean Spray, Mack Trucks, and Olympus Corp.
Bringing these entities together to better connect the Lehigh Valley’s labor supply and demand is such an innovative concept, it’s beginning to develop interest statewide as a potential model to be emulated. Cunningham and Northampton Community College President Mark Erickson, who chairs the council, were invited to Harrisburg in September to testify about the effort before the Pennsylvania House Subcommittee on Technical Education and Career Readiness.
“The first step in understanding the gap between the education talent supply and workforce needs of employers is to gather accurate and timely data, and to code that data in a way that is consistent across institutions,” Erickson said during his testimony. “The second, and most critical step, is to assess potential gaps, and ultimately assure alignment with the workforce needs of the region we serve.”
The council has begun to identify areas of focus to prioritize, discussing such topics as establishing internships, standardizing terminology in job descriptions to ensure more candidates are found, testing and verifying workforce data, and creating more intensive employer engagement. The objective is to have each Lehigh Valley college and school provide information on the pipeline of talent preparing to enter the local labor market.
Developing data-driven, innovative and cost-effective workforce strategies has always been a priority for both LVWDB and LVEDC. That why we’ve partnered on the formation of the Education and Talent Supply Council, which itself stems from a Workforce and Economic Development Strategic Plan both organizations commissioned last year from Oxford Economics.
Understanding labor supply is only half of the battle. The other half is understanding the specific labor needs of Lehigh Valley businesses. The goal is to make sure the region is supplying the right number of workers, with the proper skills demanded by present and future companies. This is no easy task, but we have now begun to put into place a process that we believe can be successful.