If you’ve ever worked with the amazing design and development teams at Firefli, you totally get why this company is thriving and winning awards like the Virginia Business Top Places to Work. They are friendly, agile, and lean – and experts at finding the balance between strategy, design, and functionality.
Owner and founder, Greg Brock, understands that “inspired creative individuals that feel valued create amazing work.” This is why they work with the intention to nurture their team of creatives and to grow strategically by including staff with different skill sets and perspectives. We’ve been lucky enough to work with Firefli on projects like RoanokeOutside.com and the Get2KnowNoke brand new talent portal, estimated to launch in March 2024.
Learn how they created an award-winning team, headquartered right in the heart of downtown Roanoke.
Branch is one of the largest construction companies in Virginia, and their 58,000+ sq. foot corporate headquarters can be found on Peters Creek Rd. in the city of Roanoke. The employee-owned company has expanded its presence across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States, with a large portion of its 1,100 employees living and working in the Roanoke Region (as well as Virginia and North Carolina). You can learn more about the history of Branch here.
Branch is not unique when facing challenges in the labor market. In addition to the unprecedented, historically high number of job openings exacerbated by COVID-19, the construction industry is battling an increased shortage of skilled workers. Closing the gap between the large number of experienced workers retiring from the industry and the small number of those entering will be a challenge for the next decade. As an employee-owned company, it’s critical that we are always striving to attract and keep the best employees we can since our success hinges on their talents.
One of the foundational elements of our strategy is consistent communication and workforce planning with our business unit leaders (Branch has three separate entities). This allows us to understand current and future staffing needs.
These needs can change suddenly due to project schedules, and we often have to recruit high numbers quickly. By having regular meetings, tracking current and predicted job openings, and sharing intel, we can be proactive instead of reactive.
It’s proved crucial to stay on top of technology trends and incorporate new platforms efficiently for both recruiters and hiring managers. In 2022, we introduced a new employee referral program and the number of referrals has increased dramatically. The addition of a text messaging system, integrated with our recruiting software, improved our ability to communicate with candidates who work in the field and are on the go. We also improved our reporting and added analytical data to help identify gaps in our pipeline, the jobs, and regions that are most popular or have the largest candidates drop off and inform us about the candidate’s journey from awareness to hire.
Talent also has a strong partnership with the internal marketing department. Sharing this data with marketing allows them to create better campaigns, strategically buy media, and pivot quickly when needed. They can effectively communicate our company’s employee value proposition (EVP) in creative ways to break through the noise of our competitors — by focusing on the culture that employee ownership creates, the accountability and opportunities that exist because of it, and the rewards it reaps, we’re able to attract the best talent.
Tapping Into Diverse or Unexpected Talent Pools
Comprising members of Human Resources and stakeholders within the business units, our Workforce Development committee has successfully identified the best-untapped talent pools and groups that have diverse candidates with transferrable skills. Through these programs and partnerships with various agencies, we are seeing more candidates and a positive impact on our diversity numbers. It’s critical that HR works on identifying these groups with employees within the organization since they will know where their peers are. As an organization, you cannot always depend on your leaders to know where to look.
What Could the Roanoke Region Be Doing to Attract More Young Talent?
To attract young talent, it is imperative that the region offer affordable housing options to new graduates (especially those saddled with student loans) and young adults just moving out on their own. This may call for fewer restrictions to building apartments or incentivizing the building of smaller, single-family homes.
Branch Collaborations with Regional Educational Institutions
Building relationships is one of Branch’s core values, so collaboration with local educational institutions is a top priority. We consistently evaluate our success with students in their various programs to optimize the relationship for both parties. Sponsoring and attending hiring events, speaking at colleges and classes, mentoring students, offering internships and career exploration opportunities, and working with their career centers are just a few ways that we engage.
It should be noted that we have found the most success in partnering with our local high schools. Interest in STEM careers like construction and engineering starts way before college! We love to interact with the students at local vocational and high schools.
We provide interviewing coaching, soft-skill training, career exploration days, and career fairs. We have a reputable 25-year-old mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) student apprenticeship programs and newer heavy equipment and carpentry apprenticeships that successfully recruit students.
Alongside Roanoke City schools, we’ve created an externship for a mechanical engineering student who will shadow our Building Information Management (BIM) team and explore real-world applications. In July, we offered our first Career Exploration Day, which allowed students ages 16-18 to job shadow each department at Branch, including non-construction-related careers. These experiences will help students get an idea of the career paths they can explore upon graduation.
Successful Mentorship and Internship Programs Nurture Young Talent and Prepare Them for Employment
Branch has hosted summer interns for decades. During the nine-week internships, we offer three career pathways in three-week rotations. This format provides hands-on experiences to help young talent determine their area of focus upon graduation. To aid development off the job site, we created intern-specific webinars about employee benefits, how retirement accounts work, resume tips, and interview skills (just to name a few).
What Workforce and Talent Attraction Tools in the Roanoke Region Would You Recommend to Another Employer?
Your business doesn’t have to solve every challenge on its own. Use your workforce development agencies! They offer funding for training, career counselors who integrate candidates into places of employment, and potential financial incentives for companies who hire from disenfranchised populations. Overcome barriers to employment by working with agencies that provide wrap-around services; for example, ride-sharing for employees who don’t have reliable transportation, or financial benefits for employees to maintain reliable childcare. Talk to your vendors, clients, and even competitors to see how they are solving their workforce challenges – you may discover new resources or find a partner.
Economic development agencies, such as the Roanoke Regional Partnership, are invested in retaining talent after graduation from local colleges and universities and encouraging those who grew up here, but settled elsewhere after graduation, to return to the region. Employers can do this as well by highlighting the quality of life that the region offers while extending an offer for employment. Use the marketing materials they provide to persuade your candidates that Roanoke is the place to be.
A job board is a webpage used by employers to advertise their job vacancies to job seekers, and this regional version pulls opportunities for all regional employers and offers special filtering tools making it easier to use.
The Get2KnowNoke site is free for employers and job seekers to use and includes listings for all companies in Roanoke, Franklin, Botetourt, and Alleghany counties, the cities of Salem, Roanoke, and Covington, and the town of Vinton. Job seekers can filter jobs by job category, employer, or use the search bar to filter by key terms.
“While there are many job sites specific to one town or one employer, the Partnership identified that our region was lacking a user-friendly tool for job seekers and employers that encompassed our entire labor shed, said Julia Boas, director of talent strategies for the Roanoke Regional Partnership. “Now technology exists that allows us to keep listings up to date without employers having to lift a finger.”
Currently, 8,164 job listings are populating the jobs board, which are pulled from the best-in-class platform Jobs EQ. Jobs EQ uses website crawling technology to scrape data from over 14,000 websites daily, including top sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter. If any employers’ listings are not showing, their internal websites can be submitted to Jobs EQ.
As part of the Thrive 2027 plan, the Partnership recognized the importance of expanding the Roanoke Region’s ability to attract and retain in-demand talent as one of the top priorities over the next five years. In addition to developing web assets like the jobs board, Get2KnowNoke focuses on marketing and brand-building around the talent narrative, as well as supporting the advancement of the education pipeline and workforce development initiatives.
An entirely new talent portal, currently being developed in collaboration with the Greater Roanoke Workforce Development Board thanks to a grant from GO Virginia, will feature livability assets, neighborhood guides, employer resources, internships, and networking opportunities with a scheduled finish date of early 2024.
With the current demand for qualified labor at an all-time high, employers need to remove any barriers for potential talent looking to relocate to the region. This tool, coupled with the development of a more robust website, will provide all the resources a prospective resident may need in one place.
“Now that we’ve developed this useful tool, we can promote it to potential employees in key markets where we know that people are leaving to move to Roanoke, or places that have a labor-pool density with skills our employers are seeking,” said Boas, “We expect the site to become the go-to resource for regional job opportunities and intend to glean valuable insights into the demographics of people using the site.”
We are bummed that we could not host Experience 2020 this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we can bring some of the speakers and professional development resources to you. Virtual mini sessions and information will be posted here. Make sure to check back for updates!
Let’s put that in perspective, between the ages of 20 and 65 the average American will work about 260 days per year, 8 hours per day to equal about 93,600 hours over a lifetime. If you love what you do, you may not ever spend a day of your life “working.” So, why not turn a hobby into a career?
Franklin County is part of a new program of the Virginia Tobacco Revitalization Commission which will help pay off student loan debt for recent college graduates who reside in Franklin County (or another tobacco region community) and fill in-demand jobs.
Job seekers, you don’t have to look any further than the Roanoke Region to find the perfect fit.
A report in USA Today notes that Roanoke is one of the best metro job markets in 2018. The ranking was produced by Zippia, a job search website, which used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistic to tank the top markets. Rankings are based on based on how much local wages rose, how much unemployment dipped, and the current jobless rate. Continue reading “Roanoke Named Top Market for Jobs by USA Today”
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