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.
The new self-populating, always-updated regional calendar will pull in your events automatically
The new self-populating, always-updated Roanoke Regional calendar will pull in your events automatically, the caveat being your event must be available online event with a unique url. But if you don’t have that, we can still add them manually.
View the video below to learn more about adding your events to our calendar, using the navigation tools, submitting your internal url for scraping, or promoting events via the portal.
All regional partners and investors of the Roanoke Regional Partnership are eligible for FREE event promotions related to professional development, careers, networking, livability, and placemaking. Just let our staff know, and we’ll help you spread the word.
October 4 Talent Expo to be held at the Taubman Museum in Downtown Roanoke
Roanoke, VA (September 26, 2023)– Get2KnowNoke (G2KN) and the Virginia Talent + Opportunity Partnership (V-TOP) are hosting the Fall Intern and Early Career Expo to connect Roanoke Region employers with potential talent educated in the region. On October 4, college students, recent graduates, and early career professionals are invited to meet with regional employers about career and intern opportunities.
From 4:30-7:30 p.m. at the Taubman Museum of Art in downtown Roanoke, nearly 50 local employers will be on-site to discuss both paid internship programs and early career positions with talent looking to gain valuable experience and on-the-job training. Attendees can still register online to learn about regional companies, internship opportunities, entry-level positions, the Roanoke Region, and its professional ecosystem.
Entry to the expo is free for attendees, and higher education institutions will provide transportation to and from the event. Enrolled students and alumni must register by September 27 for transportation.
Along with G2KN and V-TOP, all the region’s top colleges and universities have collaborated in the planning of this event to maximize the value to students and employers. Hollins University, Ferrum College, Virginia Tech, Radford University, Roanoke College, and Virginia Western Community College career service department are all engaged in this effort.
Proximity to assets like green spaces, hiking trails, waterfalls, and mountains played a big role in which cities made it on the list. This is one of the main things people mention when talking about the Roanoke hiking scene – some of the most beautiful hikes in the U.S. are just a 15-minute drive from downtown.
This is timely news considering the City of Roanoke just announced over 100 miles of trails and greenways within its limits, and they plan to celebrate with a trail work day and party on Mill Mountain, September 23. And that’s 100 miles solely in the urban core!
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.
Global Oncology Research Innovators Compete for $300,000 and J-Labs Partnership
Okay, that’s a lot of fancy words. What does that mean for the Roanoke Region and our continuously growing innovation corridor?
The QuickFire Challenge is offering top global innovators an opportunity to receive $300,000 in funding in exchange for locating their start-up in the Roanoke-Blacksburg Region. This means if they receive the money, they commit to establishing their business footprint within the Roanoke-Blacksburg region and remaining within the region for two years following receipt of the award.
The awardees don’t just receive funding, they will also be wrapped into the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center ecosystem which includes lab space. It also includes access to the acclaimed Johnson & Johnson Innovation Labs network, known in the industry as JLABS. This includes mentorship from experts across the JLABS companies, which can be a game-changer for these biotech entrepreneurs.
This award will help with the formulation of biotech clusters within the innovation corridor and is expected to attract similarly-focused researchers to do their work in conjunction with Virginia Tech Carilion and Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.
Why is JLABS Interested in the Roanoke Region?
Virginia is home to a growing community of over 300 life science companies, with Virginia Tech Carilion and Fralin Biomedical Research Institute acting as a shining example of Virginia’s Higher Education Institutions – which collectively earn $382 Million in grant funding in 2022 alone.
The state announced more than $66 million in grants for innovative projects in Biotechnology, Life Science, and Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Cluster, which will include an advanced laboratory incubator and wet lab space in the City of Roanoke scheduled to open in 2024.
This particular award is specific to potential solutions aiming to transform patient outcomes in oncology in adult populations with potential applications in pediatric oncology.
Tumor types of particular interest include prostate cancer, hematologic malignancies, lung cancer, bladder cancer, breast cancer, brain and spinal cord. For full details on who is eligible visit jnjinnovation.com.
Potential solutions will be evaluated by a panel of reviewers and judges on their ability to meet the following criteria:
Uniqueness of the idea
Potential impact on human health
Feasibility of the idea
Thoroughness of approach
Identification of key resources and a plan to further the idea
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.
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; RECENT GRADS DON’T HAVE ANY
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:
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.
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.
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.
The Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon was one of the Roanoke Region’s first global events and has since become a weekend where residents go all out to welcome runners from nearly every state and around the globe to this mountain wonderland we call home. This weekend is SO much more than just a race.
Neighborhoods along the course throw huge tailgating parties, there is music coming from nearly every venue in downtown Roanoke for four straight days, volunteers show up for their community in a big way, and we all celebrate at the end with donuts and mimosas. The only way to fully appreciate the experience is to see it for yourself. Below are our favorite ways to spend marathon weekend every year.
Tailgatin’ and Spectatin’
Neighborhoods along the course come out in FULL FORCE to support the runners and show them that Roanoke might just be the best place to run a race ever! Recommended: playing music, wearing costumes, funny-yet-encouraging signs, setting up a misting tent (if it’s hot), and snacks/beverages all make a great impression on runners. Check out some popular spectator zones. **You can always just head to the finish area for easy cheering. You know there will be food and beer trucks already set up.
Headliner in Elmwood on April 22 – Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers
Every year, Down by Downtown, brings a unique headliner that isn’t the same old, same old that you find in the region. This ticketed show opens with Kentucky Ruckus, followed by The Die Hards, with headliner Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers bringing a funky, folky vibe you don’t want to miss. Get Tickets.
Feel That Roanoke Pride – Volunteer!
Get2KnowNoke is sponsoring the BRM volunteers this year, because we understand that giving back to the community is a great way to feel connected. Pour beer, be a course marshal, or choose from dozens of other essential shifts. As a volunteer you help welcome people to Roanoke, catch up with the community, and get in your good deeds. See what shifts are still available.
For the Ambitious Ones
You can actually run if you’re up for it! Many residents make a walk up to the Mill Mountain Star an annual tradition. The full, full relay, double, and half marathons also attract thousands of runners every year. There is still time to register and tackle America’s Toughest Road Races. You can register at the Friday expo in person as well.
Donuts & Coffee at the Sunday Slow-K
The Sunday Slow-K might be our favorite part of race weekend. It’s the relaxing farewell to one of Roanoke’s best weekends complete with a Brunch Market. Grab a mimosa and biscuits, join a recovery yoga session, shop local vendors, slowly stroll the greenway, and finish it off with coffee and donuts (included in your entry fee along with branded mug). We actually give a prize to the person who comes in last! Register now.
Attendees wore nametags donning their current podcast or streaming obsessions, favorite fictional character, or favorite place in the region. They could sip and shop Txtur or tour the new boutique hotel.
The room was buzzing with conversation and excitement, and those that preregistered were entered to win a Cotapaxi cooler. “Networking can often be considered a dirty word, but simply put—networking means building connections,” Julia Boas, Roanoke Regional Partnership director of talent strategies (and leader of the Get2KnowNoke brand). “In a community like ours, there are endless ways we can lift each other up and support each other’s missions in a symbiotic way.”
These events are an integral part of Get2KnowNoke’s mission—bring and keep top-tier talent here in the Roanoke Region. The best way to do that is to create a “stickiness” within the region by building social connections. Studies show that those relationships are what make people feel the most connected to a place. When you feel like you belong, you’re an advocate, ambassador, and evangelist for the community.
And this was a great start. People around the room were excited just to be there. “This was a room full of friendly people who were just so excited about Roanoke. No agendas, no quid-pro-quos. Just genuine kindness and enthusiasm for all the wonderful things we have going on here!” said Kelly Brammer, one of the attendees.
“Tonight wasn’t all about exchanging business cards and making small talk. It was a chance to connect with like-minded people, build authentic relationships, and hear valuable perspective,” RRPN member Nolan Hamilton said. “There was a lot of excitement around Julia re-joining the Partnership, and there was a renewed energy at the event. It was very inclusive, and I walked away feeling more connected to our region and peers.”
What do we do with this renewed enthusiasm?
Boas is big on feedback loops, so she’ll be reaching out in the future to keep her finger on the pulse of the state of talent. She also hopes people will reach out to her with things they’d like to see, gaps they notice in the region’s offerings for professional services, or new ways to collaborate.
The next quarter’s social is already being planned for June, so be on the lookout for that, and Get2KnowNoke hopes to host a Brewery by Bike tour in May to celebrate bike month! To stay in the loop, please make sure you’re signed up to receive Get2KNowNoke emails and join the RRPN group on LinkedIn. We’ve got something special going here, and we’re going to do great things!
The first official event for the new Blacks in Technology (BIT) Roanoke-Blacksburg chapter kicked off last week on March 9 at The Collective co-working space. The networking mixer had 66 attendees who rubbed elbows with other tech professionals interested in advancing the cause of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Roanoke-Blacksburg communities.
“The tech world didn’t represent the community,” said Harvey Brookins, VERGE board member, on why they formed the new BIT chapter. “We wanted to do something very deliberate, so we brought together all the stakeholders to figure out the best ways to connect and showcase the Black community members. Then we reached out to BIT national.”
Get2KnowNoke also spoke with Angela Dickerson who volunteered as the first chapter president. She explained that the Roanoke-Blacksburg chapter leadership determined three areas of focus:
Educate K-12 students about the opportunities that STEM can afford them.
Increase engagement among those that work in tech and tech-adjacent fields.
Provide opportunities for certification, networking, and mentoring.
So who can join BIT, and what does membership entail?
Membership is 100% free. Members just need to identify as Black and be interested in growing their knowledge in the tech space. Members receive benefits such as free or deeply discounted certifications.
As far as engagement and events are concerned anyone, regardless of race, can come and learn how to grow their tech careers.
**Currently membership is with BIT Virginia Chapter.
The next event is in Blacksburg on April 14 with special guest Dennis Shultz, the executive director of Blacks in Technology, who also happens to be a Hokie.
“Since BIT is an international organization, Dennis meets with people all over the world on Zoom,” said Angela Dickerson, BIT Roanoke-Blacksburg chapter president. “On all his international calls, he [Shultz] proudly hangs his Hokie flag directly behind him in his office.”
Dickerson, Brookins, and the rest of the newly formed BIT Roanoke-Blacksburg board have high hopes for the future of the club. They plan to identify opportunities for grants and funding to start getting the community the training and support needed to be successful. They also are looking for sponsors interested in helping to create programming and bring inspiring speakers.
If you are interested in sponsoring or learning more about membership, please email Angela Pope Dickerson.