The Virginia Initiative for Growth and Opportunity (GO Virginia) has approved $64,800 for a grant to help put the Shenandoah Valley Talent Solutions Strategy into action.

The Talent Solutions Strategy will cost $134,800 with valley localities contributing the remaining $70,000, according to a news release. 

Designed to assess barriers young people face to entering middle and high-skill jobs, and remain there, the strategy aims to corral business leaders, guidance counselors and human resources.

Shenandoah, Frederick, Clark, Page and Warren counties are partnering to put the plan into action.

Long term, the goal of the strategy is to help bolster the workforce and improve recruitment throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

Bonnie Riedesel, executive director of the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission, said retention and recruitment are top issues the largest employers throughout the valley raise.

“Our employers, our industries are saying we can’t find the people we need in this middle skill level,” she said. “There’s a real shortage in actual, potential employees.”

A lack of employees correlates with the continuing low unemployment rate Virginia has enjoyed in recent years.

Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam announced the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell 0.1 percent in November to 2.8 percent — the lowest it has been in 17 years. Going along with dropping unemployment, the workforce is also expanding, adding 1,534 jobs to total more than 4 million.

In the valley, middle to high-skill level jobs are defined as those that pay at least $41,000 a year, Riedesel said.

In order to qualify for the GO Virginia grant funding, the strategy had to show it would address some of the targeted industries laid out in the valley’s growth and diversity plan. Industries such as financial and business services, light manufacturing and healthcare along with biomedical and biotechnical jobs and various forms of manufacturing are all targeted industries.

Attempting to find the right shaped pegs for these holes in industry, the Solution Strategy is zeroing in on high school students as well as recent university and community college graduates.

“[We’re] trying to keep the young people in this region when they graduate from high school,” Riedesel said. “Figuring out if they have the skills to be able to go into these targeted industries.”

Shenandoah County sees a sharp drop in population when it comes to those aged 20 through 34, according to VirginiaLMI.com. In 2010, the date of the last census, 2,630 teenagers (aged 15-19) lived in Shenandoah County, but only 2,112 aged 20 to 24; 2,273 aged 25 to 29 and 2,146 aged 30 to 34.

Focus groups and consultants are expected to be formed in early 2019 and research should be finished by the end of the year.

Contact Max Thornberry at mthornberry@nvdaily.com