Lehigh Valley’s Education & Talent Supply Council Examines Strategies to Fortify Talent Pipeline

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on April 25, 2022

NCC President Mark Erickson speaks before the LVEDC’s Education & Talent Supply Council, which recently released a new talent study. Erikson is the council’s co-chair.

In today’s historically tight labor market, economic development expert Jim Damicis sees Lehigh Valley as commanding two major advantages.

The first is demographic: a growing population and workforce.

The second is collaboration: a coalition of major employers, community leaders, 11 colleges and universities, public school districts, and three technical schools aligning curriculum to local employers’ needs.

His proof?

Lehigh Valley employers harnessed a growing, skilled workforce to produce a record economic output for the region on the eve of the pandemic. And today, the region is forecast to add twice the percentage of jobs through 2025 as is projected statewide, and the outlook is particularly positive for industries such as advanced manufacturing and the life sciences, he said.

“You’re outperforming the state, you’re outperforming the rest of the country in terms of economic growth in a period of time where a lot of places are simply holding their own and having zero growth is actually a positive thing for a lot of regions,” Damicis said. “So, these are positive trends for the future workforce demands.”

Jim Damicis, Senior Vice President with Camoin Associates, recently presented findings of a Lehigh Valley talent study.

Damicis, a senior vice president with Camoin Associates, delivered his assessment to 56 members of the Education and Talent Supply Council, an initiative of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, at an April 22 hybrid event at Northampton Community College and on Zoom.

The 90-minute event also included remarks from LVEDC President and CEO Don Cunningham, Lehigh Valley Workforce Board Lehigh Valley Director of Community Planning Gina Kormanik, Vice President of Regional Partnerships and Talent Strategies Karianne Gelinas, and LVEDC Talent Strategies Manager Frank Alvarado.

Camoin, in partnership with labor market analytics group EMSI/Burning Glass, was commissioned by the LVEDC and Workforce Board Lehigh Valley to do the in-depth talent study. An update of a 2018 report, the study chronicles the successes and challenges employers are facing in the Lehigh Valley and offers insights to the post-pandemic economy. It identifies industry trends, strengths of key industry sectors, opportunities for meaningful employment, projected hiring gaps, and strategies to address workforce issues.

The work included labor market analysis, survey of local employers, interviews and focus groups comprising company officials in growing industry sectors with a strong presence in the region: advanced manufacturing, life sciences, health care, logistics, and high value business services.

Advanced Manufacturing/Logistics

Damicis noted the region, steeped in industrial heritage, continues to command a strong presence in advanced manufacturing, which offers high potential earnings with minimal student debt. He said there are low level entry requirements and solid starting wages. Upskilling can lead to high potential earnings, he said.

“It is critical to expose students to advanced manufacturing opportunities and in today’s world,” he said. “You can do very well and essentially have no debt by going into a manufacturing career.”

He said that there are many synergies to draw on between advanced manufacturing and logistics, which has a strong presence in the Lehigh Valley. Both need each other to make and move products, he said.

Life Sciences/Health Care

Damicis said the growing life sciences sector is an attractive sector for many communities. Lehigh Valley’s edge is that it starts with a small but solid base of not just life sciences employers and jobs in the related health care industry. The region is particularly strong with medical device companies, which draw on the region’s manufacturing strength.

“This is one of those sectors everyone thinks they can grow. They are all trying to be a center of excellence, but they don’t have the base to do it,” he said. “You already have success here, and you’re already seeing growth. And it’s going to be highly competitive going forward because everybody wants to do it. The more you can feed talent, the better your able to support these companies.”

High Value Business Services

Damicis said among the biggest impacts to high value business services will be remote work. The knowledge industry is probably impacted the most by the trend. Damicis said, generally, businesses are underestimating its impact going forward.

“If the workers prefer to be remote, you will eventually change your business model,” he said. “And, if you don’t, you won’t succeed on the business side.”

The assessment of the talent market is just one of the many award-winning initiatives of the LVEDC’s Education and Talent Supply Council, a regional coalition formed in 2015. The council brings together leaders from business, education, and community organizations to identify talent market gaps and opportunities.

Northampton Community College President Mark Erickson, who will retire, had been the co-chair from the start and another co-chair was never appointed.

Cunningham said the council benefited from his “intelligence, energy, focus, and community-mindedness.”

“You’ve been just a great leader for us, provided great guidance and counsel and direction and we wouldn’t be where we are today in the Lehigh Valley with this initiative without your leadership,” he said.

Erickson said the work the council done is perhaps more relevant today than it was when the council was convened.

“This is important work and I feel humbled to have been a part of it,” he said.

In addition to the talent study, the council has:

  • Hosted three Internship Summits to encourage the creation and expansion of internship opportunities between Lehigh Valley employers and colleges.
  • Published an Internship Toolkit of best practices for employers and a directory of Career Development contacts and information available at Lehigh Valley colleges and universities.
  • Created the Hot Career Guides, an annual, data-driven compilation researched by LVEDC of the most in-demand occupations in the Lehigh Valley.
  • Developed data collection strategies to analyze regional student enrollment in a timely manner.
  • Continued research including the alumni survey and other data-driven projects.

Click here to view a special overview presentation of the talent study.

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