Talent Talks: Regional Efforts to Attract, Retain, and Develop Top-Tier Talent

Julia Boas the director of talent strategies at the Roanoke Regional Partnership talks talent at the investor update meeting.

At the latest Investor Meeting in April, the Partnership’s director of talent strategies, Julia Boas, gave a comprehensive overview of the state of talent, both locally and nationwide. While the talent shortage continues to be a concern nationwide, the Roanoke Region is well positioned with a high quality of life and a strong diversity of industry, and Get2KnowNoke (the Partnership’s talent attraction brand) has developed a road map to lead us in the right direction.

Unlike many larger metros, in-migration to the Roanoke Region continues to grow, leading us to believe that our livability and placemaking efforts already give us a leg up on the competition. However, we are not ones to rest on our laurels—Boas has been working diligently with regional partners to learn specifics about existing efforts, where they need help, and what the region is missing when it comes to talent efforts. Here are her major takeaways:

  • Communication  between high schoolers and their families, higher education institutions, and employers could be strengthened.
  • Employers want experienced employees, while recent graduates need employment now. When recent graduates leave the region, they often do not return, and if they do, employers are paying a premium for them.
  • We must be better at connecting people to the resources they need and amplifying our partners’ talent attraction and workforce development efforts, while combining efforts where necessary.

Information gaps and communication challenges need to be addressed.


Higher education institutions and regional employers have opportunities for recent high school graduates. Local colleges offer degrees and training programs that directly correspond to employer needs. Both programs are underutilized.

Conversely, there are many high school students who are not pursuing a four-year degree, but still need to earn a comfortable living. The National Skills Coalition recently released a Skills Mismatch report. In Virginia, there are too many students going to four-year colleges and not enough correlating positions upon graduation. There are also too few workers pursuing skills training even though those jobs make up nearly 50 percent of all available positions.

As a region, we need to be better at directing students toward training programs related to in-demand fields, many of which make more than folks graduating with a four-year degree.

One way partners are tackling this issue is through Student Registered Apprenticeship (SRA) programs.  Through educational workshops, area schools are helping businesses understand the benefits of offering apprenticeships while removing the barriers for starting their own program. The apprenticeships are specifically for high school students in their junior and senior years, and upon graduation, they will have skills they can use to obtain gainful employment; additionally, employers will (hopefully) have trained people to continue employment post-graduation. This SRA program helps employers develop their future workforce from within while creating a loyal employee base.

Boas also believes in opening more dialogues among secondary schools, higher educational institutions, high school students, and their parents. The more these parties talk and collaborate, the more they will all benefit. Through continued education and communication about all the opportunities available, the information gap will begin to close, and these programs will be successful.

Employers want experience and recent graduates don't have any. Roanoke Region employers need to address this disparity.


At the Investor Meeting, Boas explained that when companies do not hire new graduates due to lack of experience, those graduates leave for other markets. Once that happens, it is much harder to get them back; thus, we need to work to keep them here and engage them early with the quality-of-life benefits the region offers. Following the meeting, one local CEO said the following:

“Your logic on trading the old notion of hiring young professionals that have a few years of experience (compared to hiring fresh grads) was an amazing epiphany to me. I’ve been struggling with our talent quandary where we’re (more and more) having to look out of market—and from larger, more tech-savvy metros—but the cost-to-benefit ratio can be a killer as you can imagine.

By looking at this problem with a new lens, I can clearly see tangible outcomes of investing in fresh talent now for the bigger win later. Yes, it may create its struggles in the beginning, but I can see how you may actually be building an even stronger team for the future.”

– CEO of Roanoke Region Employer

So, in addition to encouraging employers to offer more internships and apprenticeships, we are also educating employers on the compounding interest of shifting their hiring practices. There will be an investment by employers up front, but developing our long-term talent pipeline will have a big payoff.

We know, however, that attraction is not enough; talent retention is just as important. In addition to employment, interns and recent graduates also need to feel connected to the community if we want them to stay. That is why Get2KnowNoke has launched Onboard|ROA, an eight-week program for young professionals ages 18-25 that onboards them to the region through social outings married with career-readiness training. Onboard|ROA begins in June, and interested parties can learn more and register here.

Additionally, there is the Roanoke Regional Professionals Network (RRPN), a free professional network open to anyone in the region. There are quarterly networking socials that have proven to be extremely popular and welcoming to all people in the region.


Right now, we have a lot of parties doing great work in the talent space. We want to consolidate information about those efforts into one place where prospective and current residents can learn about internships and jobs, housing, entertainment, resources, professional development, etc. We are working on a talent portal to address all those needs.

The first step was creating a regional jobs board. Powered by JobsEQ, our API scrapes over 14,000 websites for employment opportunities in the region and displays it all in one place. This alleviates the need for employers to place their job openings on several different sites to try and reach as many people as possible. They can just let us know that they want their website to be scraped, and we’ll add it to the list. Job seekers can also rest easy knowing they can check one site instead of several when looking for employment. You can see the jobs board here.

Thanks to a grant from GO Virginia in partnership with Greater Roanoke Valley Workforce Development Board, Get2KnowNoke is actively working on a brand-new website that will serve as a talent portal for the region. Whether people are looking for jobs, housing, workforce training, internships, or places with great patio dining, this website will fulfill all those needs. And those partners in the region who are doing great work? This site will serve to amplify their efforts and connect them with the people who need their services.

Once we launch the talent portal, we plan to roll out a co-branded marketing campaign with Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge and Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council. By combining our resources, we will use this campaign to target talent in other regions to encourage them to make the Roanoke Region their new home.

Talent is a real concern for all communities throughout the nation, but we feel confident in the strategies we have outlined in providing the Roanoke Region with a distinct competitive advantage. And these are just the major initiatives. In addition to these larger efforts, we continue to work with employers and partners to address specific concerns and issues they encounter.

If we can help, we will. If we can’t, we will find the people who can. We are already ahead of the curve as far as in-migration goes. Coupled with the Partnership’s strategic efforts, we are confident that talent will continue to choose the Roanoke Region in the future, and employers (and employees) will flourish.

Contact us to get connected or find resources on talent attraction and retention.