Like most regions, the Richmond, Virginia area has big plans. For community leaders, one of those plans is to become a top-tier city. And while the region is moving in the right direction, to achieve such lofty goals takes intentionality. Especially when it comes to developing the necessary talent pool for local employers and creating the opportunities so graduates stay.
RVA NOW is a talent retention and recruitment program of Chamber RVA, the Richmond area chamber of commerce covering a seven county region. Lightcast conducted an analysis of demographics, labor market trends, economic performance, and the regional educational pipeline to better understand what areas the region is succeeding in and where they can improve.
The study also took a deep dive into talent retention, migration, and attraction. To do this Lightcast analyzed the profiles of Richmond region post-secondary alumni that graduated between 2015 and 2020. This data set showed the graduating institution, degree level, graduation year, program of study, and current MSA region to enable exploration of talent retention and migration trends.
We sat down with Beth Weisbrod, Vice President of Talent & Workforce at ChamberRVA, and Collin Perciballi, Lightcast Senior Consultant and project lead for the Richmond region analysis, to learn more about the project, findings of the data, and what next steps look like.
Beth Weisbrod, Vice President of Talent & Workforce at ChamberRVA and Collin Perciballi, Lightcast Senior Consultant.
What challenge is the Richmond region facing that led to commissioning this labor market analysis?
BW: Richmond is doing well. Its population is growing, and new businesses are relocating to the region. But this isn’t a static thing, and like most cities, Richmond thrives on forward momentum and finding ways to be better. Since we began this project, we knew anecdotally there were talent gaps—higher ed career offices and students saying there aren’t enough jobs to keep them local. And on the flip side, regional employers say we don’t have enough talent. Clearly, we needed to know the big picture through a deep analysis of data from 360 degrees. What schools keep or send their graduates to the Richmond region? Where are our largest employers finding those fresh college graduates? Where does our talent go if they don’t stay local? These questions are on the minds of anyone who’s engaged in the business community, whether they are a business owner, hiring manager, higher ed career counselor, or leader of an economic development organization.
There are lots of consultants and labor market analytics firms out there, why did you feel Lightcast was the best to guide this research?
BW: First, we are subscribers to the Lightcast Developer software. We chose it for its user experience. It’s easy to navigate, the reports are fantastic with downloadable graphs, and a narrative already interpreting what we’re looking at. When we researched the labor market data options, Lightcast was far and away the easiest and most fun to use. Since becoming Lightcast customers, we’ve enjoyed a superior level of customer support. Everyone, from our initial salesperson to our account manager, was knowledgeable and clearly knew our business and how this information fit into our workflow. So, when we decided we were ready to move on the labor market study, the decision was an easy one. We found the consultants on our study, not surprisingly, to be smart, thorough, and delightful to work with.
Collin, what was the approach used to discover what the data said about the anecdotal information?
CP: The first challenge was identifying the relevant “talent” for analysis. Through Lightcast profile data, we identified graduates of Richmond region higher education institutions. Then we were able to dig into the profile data to uncover things like current location, area of study, degree level, and graduation year. This allowed us to uncover talent migration insights for the region as a whole, but also for individual institutions and programs of study. We discovered some pretty useful information that RVA NOW can use in its targeting efforts.
What surprised you most about the results of the analysis?
BW: As a mid-sized, mid-Atlantic city, Richmond fixates on other mid-sized, mid-Atlantic MSAs. For example, it’s conventional wisdom that Richmond loses a lot of its talent to North Carolina cities of similar size. But the study revealed that of the top ten MSA destinations receiving the most talent from the Richmond region, not one is in North Carolina. Eight are large cities, which is eye-opening. Makes sense, but still, a surprise.
CP: I was surprised to see that despite the region’s relatively strong demographic growth, the size of the region’s Gen Z cohort has actually declined. Obviously RVA NOW felt this generation needed attention, hence the existence of the initiative. But I was surprised to see the data so clearly validate the need to focus on this age group.
What excites you most about the recommendations that came out of the study?
BW: The last key takeaway tells us that “Never have people been so willing to move on from their current jobs; to escape enormous and expensive cities.” This has me and my team very excited, especially given that over the last five years, we’ve lost most of our talent to large cities.
Richmond has a lot of assets. Its quality of life is apparently a surprise to young professionals who move here. Richmond also has a lot more good jobs than most college seniors know about. The labor market study makes it clear that by combining these two messages—quality of life and good jobs—and aiming it at the right targets, RVA NOW will succeed in closing gaps and strengthening the talent pipeline for years to come.
What do you think would be the outcome if the Richmond region didn’t take action on talent retention and attraction?
BW: Focused talent attraction initiatives are popping up all around the country and yielding results. In fact, I think Richmond might be a little late to the game. Our region does a fantastic job getting the tourism message out, and it also does a great job promoting itself to people who live here. But there’s a gap in the demographics to whom we brag, and it’s that Gen Z audience. Richmond will progress as it will, whether we proactively promote our region to college talent or not. But our leaders keep talking about becoming a top-tier city. Without a growing and solid foundation of young professionals, it will be a whole lot harder to attain that kind of status. And unless our region has one organization focusing on a consistent message to post-secondary students on the opportunities that await them in Richmond, other regions will get to them first.
Collin, as talent attraction and retention programs become staples of economic development organizations, what’s your advice for taking a data-driven approach when creating or improving a programs?
CP: The reason why talent attraction and retention programs are becoming more commonplace is because of this monumental shift in the labor market—the “demographic drought.” This means competition for talent will be fiercer than ever before. As such, economic development organizations will be competing for attention and airspace. Do not go after anything and everything! The point of a data-driven approach is to hone your attraction and retention efforts into a targeted, realistic strategy.
Focus on talent alignment – identify the most acute retention issues and work to realign education with the regional economy.
Focus on talent gaps – identify areas where your economy has growth potential but is struggling to find talent.
Focus on locations – identify areas where a strong network of alumni exists or where there is a surplus of talent you need.
A data-driven approach also needs to be grounded. It has to pass the “sniff test.” It will only work in conjunction with outreach efforts to validate what the data indicates.
RVA NOW is still a very new program, but how do you envision the insights from this study helping it be more successful in the future?
BW: I see three areas of impact for this report. First, the RVA NOW initiative is currently funded through a grant from Go Virginia, an economic development agency created by the General Assembly that supports projects offering sustainable economic benefits around the Commonwealth. Our team is lean, and we carry with us the responsibility to be good stewards of this public money. This study provides a solid roadmap, allowing us to focus our efforts where we will have the biggest impact. Using this data to guide us, we can now efficiently prioritize where we aim our programming and marketing to get the biggest return.
Second, we now have benchmarks by which to measure our success. Showing that our work is paying off (closing gaps, strengthening the talent pipeline, improving the economic future of the region) will be critical to our program’s long-term acceptance and sustainability.
Third, my team and I are using it to become the subject matter experts. This report is central to our weekly team meetings. We discuss data that surprises or interests us, and then makes us dig deeper for reasons. Each of us carries our own hard copy full of notes, stickies, and paper clipped pages. It generates a lot of excitement and passion, which for me as manager of this team, is what it’s all about.
To learn more about Chamber RVA, the RVA NOW program, and view the labor market analysis, visit here. Curious about using data to answer questions and solve problems in your community? Lightcast would love to hear from you!