Fairfax County to support internships with new initiative linking employers and job candidates

A “We are hiring” sign (via Eric Prouzet/Unsplash)

Fairfax County wants to bridge the gap between employers and qualified talent through a work-based learning opportunity initiative.

Talent Up will match local employers facing hiring challenges with qualified talent through paid temporary-to-permanent work-based learning internships, staff explained to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at an economic initiatives committee meeting last week.

According to the presentation, Talent Up will offer a variety of solutions to employers facing hiring challenges:

  • Targets hard-to-fill, entry-level professional gateway jobs
  • Repositions work-based learning as low-risk temporary to permanent hiring on-ramp
  • Incentivizes employer participation by underwriting work-based learning wages
  • Advises employers on revising job descriptions to focus on skills-based hiring, increasing the pool of qualified applicants by up to 50%
  • Easy access to hundreds of candidates via talent development partners

“There’s a lot of movement going on in the workforce space right now — movement towards skills-based hiring, and we believe that this can dramatically accelerate that movement,” Bill Browning, workforce innovation manager at the Fairfax County Department of Family Services, said of the initiative.

The focus will be on gateway jobs such as information technology specialists, accounting clerks, sales representatives, and office administrative support.

“These are entry-level professional jobs, where there’s reams of data showing that they’re great springboards for future advancement and career advancement for candidates,” Browning added.

According to his presentation, Fairfax County had more than 67,000 job openings in May of this year, and 71% of employers in Northern Virginia reported it being more difficult to fill jobs now than last year, or even just a few months ago.

The initiative will also address what Browning called the “missing middle.”

“We’re looking at middle-skilled jobs that require some skills beyond high school, but perhaps not a college degree,” he said. “And we’re also looking at some of those midsize employers that don’t have some of the advantages large employers have.”

How it works:

  • Business outreach: Initial focus on small to medium-sized employers
  • Advise: Address hard to fill occupations and sponsor new temporary-to-permanent internships
  • Match: Talent partners’ referrals to generate qualified candidates to interview
  • Choose: Employers select interns
  • Support: Coaching and training support during internship to increase success rates
  • Success: Convert internships into full-time offers or place interns into new jobs

Theresa Benincasa, manager of economic mobility with the Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives, said the plan is to get started right away with the board’s approval.

“We’re going to just go ahead and do a launch event in the fall with board approval. We’ll start doing events with workers to communicate, we’ll do some one-to-one engagement,” she continued.

To be eligible for Talent Up, employers must have a physical presence in Fairfax County and be ready to establish a work-based learning internship.

Job seekers must be county residents, meet the skills requirements of an open internship and be impacted by pandemic-related unemployment, underemployed or seeking greater economic mobility.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay voiced support for the initiative, saying it builds resilience.

“If you can help some folks move into these jobs, not only do we help our employers, we help those individuals. But it’s a resilience thing where their lives can change dramatically for the better,” he said.

The program will seek the board’s approval at the July 11 meeting.

Photo via Eric Prouzet/Unsplash