LVEDC Releases Final Report From Year-Long Lehigh Valley Talent Supply Study

By George Lewis on July 16, 2018

LVEDC released the final report from its talent supply study at the Blue Grillhouse in Bethlehem.

In the world of economic development, access to skilled talent has become essential to growth.

On July 12, the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) released the final report from a year-long study to assess the regional talent market and identify wide-ranging strategies to grow, recruit, develop, and retain talent in the Lehigh Valley.

“LVEDC’s mission is to infuse the region with new jobs, good jobs, jobs that pay family-sustaining wages,” LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham told an audience of more than 200 community leaders attending an event at Blue Grillhouse in Bethlehem marking the report’s release.

“To compete successfully with other regions, we must focus on attracting and retaining people as strongly as we focus on attracting and retaining companies,” Cunningham said. “We need information that’s Lehigh Valley-specific, and we need more of it. That’s why this study is so important.”

Availability of skilled labor is a challenge not just here, but in growing economies across the United States. LVEDC began its exploration of the talent market by convening an Education and Talent Supply Council in 2015.

To increase understanding of the talent market, LVEDC, in conjunction with Workforce Board Lehigh Valley (WBLV), hired consulting firm MDB Insight to conduct a study, which included surveys, interviews, and focus groups with more than 300 businesses from five targeted industry sectors and other stakeholders, including educators, staffing agencies and regional organizations.

A clear message from the study is that Lehigh Valley companies are hiring. Among employers surveyed, 91 percent said they have hired in the past 12 months, 89 percent expect to hire in the next 12 months, and 90 perceive a skilled workforce as essential to growth.

The challenge for these employers is finding the right people for the jobs they offer: more than 70 percent of respondents reported difficulties in recruiting, hiring, and retaining workers.

The study revealed an additional challenge for the region: over the next five years, replacement demand – the sum of job growth, expected retirements, and people transferring from one job to another – is expected to be about 100,000 workers.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Nancy Dischnat, WBLV Executive Director. “The good thing is: we have the ability, relationships, and partnerships to build – and to execute – a workforce strategy, and a strong pool of talent from which to draw.”

The study resulted in a strategic action plan with 36 recommendations to improve the talent market, create approaches for developing workplace skills, and prepare job seekers to be successful in high-demand careers. LVEDC and WBLV identified the highest priorities recommendations, including:

  • Increased collaboration on job-readiness tools such as internships, apprenticeships, mentoring programs, and business tours.
  • Creation of an accessible, easy-to-use Lehigh Valley database on jobs and training opportunities.
  • Development of “employability skills” programs to improve job readiness and retention.
  • Additional research into Lehigh Valley residents who leave the area for college or jobs, and how they may be motivated to return to the region.
  • Creation of consistent brand messaging that can be used broadly by regional organizations to showcase the Lehigh Valley’s economic assets, opportunities, and quality of life.

The complete MDB Insight report is available on the LVEDC website, in addition to a 20-page summary of the report published by LVEDC.

“The report confirms that talent alignment and effective talent strategies are of critical importance to the Lehigh Valley’s long-term economic health,” said Karianne Gelinas, LVEDC Director of Talent Supply. “This study, and our ongoing talent supply initiative will help us sustain a world-class talent pipeline and establish the Lehigh Valley as a region that other communities look to as a leader in understanding talent supply.”

Funding for the study and LVEDC’s ongoing talent supply initiative, which started in 2015, has been provided in part by grants from Pennsylvania’s departments of Labor and Industry, and Community and Economic Development.

Five industrial sectors – manufacturing (advanced and food & beverage), high-value business services, life science research and manufacturing, health care, and transportation, warehousing, logistics, and wholesale – made up the focus for the talent market study based on current employment, projected growth, and specific competitive advantages that make the Lehigh Valley attractive to the sector.

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