The Present

If you were to look up the word culminate, you would find that it means…to reach a point of highest development. This is exactly what happened on June 25, 2017, at the Peninsula Workforce Development Center, in Hampton, Virginia, at a summit event held and sponsored by Southeastern/Eastern Virginia (SEVA) Rapid Response, called The State of The Workforce – Workforce Development Board Panel Industry Roundtable Discussion. This event represented many firsts and culminating points of engagement, and it came to fruition as a result of the diligent and committed efforts of an engaged Rapid Response Team of Agency Partners, Workforce Development Board Directors, and businesses/employers of human potential and our number one resource, the worker/employee. Significant culminating and terminating points are that this event was the last mandated summit to be held and sponsored by the SEVA Rapid Response Program under the responsibility and auspices of Thomas Nelson Community College Workforce Development, after seven successful years. On September 25, 2017, the regional Rapid Response Program will move back to the Virginia Employment Commission, after a ten year absence.

Rapid Response is a federally funded and mandated program, administered by states to assist dislocated workers, those impacted workers or employees who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, in getting back to work as quickly as possible. In Virginia, there are four regions, obviously, each representing approximately twenty-five percent of the Commonwealth. Each region has a Coordinator, who leads, trains, and coordinates a team of voluntary agency need-based partners to help impacted businesses/employers and employees connect or reconnect to the workforce system. The connection is via a knowledge gateway to assist those impacted employees in making informed decisions on how to best proceed and succeed in their job loss transition, by ultimately and quickly finding success in reemployment. In the SEVA Region, the Rapid Response Program is operated under the guidance and leadership of Curtis Wray, the Coordinator, and Tammy Williams, the Administrative Assistant, and Program Specialist.

So…the end of tenure of the Rapid Response Program at Thomas Nelson brings with it an ironic twist; because, it was in this same place and building that the first Rapid Response Summit ever conducted in Virginia, was voluntarily held as a vision of Wray, under the direction and guidance of Dr. Deborah George Wright, the Vice President of Workforce Development, on November 15-16, 2010.


The attendance at the event was the highest attendance ever recorded at a SEVA Rapid Response Summit event. There were 81 attendees from various businesses/employers and Virginia Workforce Network (VWN) agency and community-based partners; with 41 representing businesses/employers and 40 representing workforce system partners, nearly a 50/50 split. More importantly, the meeting, the aura, and atmosphere was congenial, nearly festive, and functionally collaborative, representing and exhibiting the euphoria of heightened impassioned engagement for idea discussion and the sharing of best practices.

Regional Workforce Development Board Engagement

It was the first time the three SEVA Regional Workforce Development Board Directors; Mike Jenkins, the Executive Director, Bay Area Consortium, representing local operating area region 13, the Middle Peninsula and Eastern Shore; Matthew James, President & CEO, the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development, representing local operating area region 14, the Peninsula; and, Steve Cook, Vice President of Workforce Innovation, substituting for Shawn Avery, President & CEO, Opportunity Inc. of Greater Hampton Roads, representing local operating area region 16, the south side of the Hampton Roads. Steve Cook said, “This event provided a great venue to have a regional discussion on the workforce needs of business and industry.  Opportunity Inc. looks forward to participating in these types of events in the future.”

This was the first time these Workforce Development Board Directors were in the same place, at the same time, talking, discussing and addressing the same issues. This form of regional collaboration and engagement had never happened, but within the meeting, there was a pledge for continued regional collaboration and involvement as a mainstay for future events. And, as a highlight to this point, it was the first time the Executive Director of the Virginia Board of Workforce Development and the Governor’s Chief Workforce Policy Advisor, Sara Dunnigan, whose position oversees and provides leadership to Virginia Workforce Development Board Directors, gave opening remarks, insights, introduced the board directors, and enthusiastically participated in engagement and discussion of relevant topics during the question and answer session.

Business as the Collaborative Partner

The meeting demonstrated leadership in collaboration by followership, in exhibiting ultimate partnership, by allowing a business Human Resources professional, Billie Cook, no relation to Steve Cook previously mentioned, the Human Resources Manager, Technical Solutions/A Division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, to be a partner on the agenda and participate in the program and to moderate the question and answer session between the audience and the board directors. This suggestion and inclusion of her on the agenda was the recommendation of Lisa Wornom-Zahralddin, Assistant Vice President for Public/Private Partnerships, Peninsula Council for Workforce Development. The end state was strategic in nature, in that businesses/employers in attendance actually saw partnership and inclusion of a business on the agenda and in the program. Also, it established the beginnings or facilitated the continuance of trust for subsequent relationships and partnerships in the future; and, it provided the opportunity to ask businesses their needs, and not merely provide a presentation that gave the appearance of telling what the workforce system thinks, they, the businesses, need.

The questions asked of workforce board directors were gleaned directly from the audience in attendance and were uncensored. Billie Cook did a masterful job in framing and asking the questions of the board directors and inter-weaving and inter-relating her own experiences as a business/employer into the discussion. Billie Cook, said, “It is a great experience when people, businesses, and support organizations come together and explore how they can best partner to obtain a shared goal…a better workforce for Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was my greatest pleasure to moderate the discussions that day and encourage the active (and ongoing) dialogue between employers and workforce development representatives.  I believe these partnerships will continue to open channels of support for local employers and will lead to improved recruitment efforts, better retention, and ongoing opportunities for employee skills enhancement.” This process is recommended to be used as a best practice for future engagement practices in Virginia and beyond.

The Past…A Look Back to Move Forward

In order to truly understand the significance and tremendous impact of what has been accomplished as culminating points of engagement, one has to have a clear and uninhibited vision of where we, as a SEVA Rapid Response Team, had started and come from.

In September 2008, Curtis Wray met with Dr. Deborah George Wright and informed her of the need and vision to conduct a regional Rapid Response Summit with the workforce partners to engage to increase and improve the quality, consistency, and relevancy on partnerships in Rapid Response in the SEVA region. The workforce partners represented the third leg or prong of what he would later call Triangle Engagement, which would come later. As a Rapid Response Coordinator, Wray routinely worked with impacted businesses and employees, but workforce system partners rarely assembled to have continuous improvement discussions. Dr. Wright was very receptive and supportive of this initiative and offered guidance and direction.

After about six months of peak and valley planning, a date was set for the summit event to occur on April 30, 2009. Except…there was one problem, only two of the Rapid Response Team of Partners wanted to participate in the summit. Subsequently, the summit was canceled. So…reaching the point of collective Rapid Response partner engagement was not a simple or easy feat, but was initially met with stiff resistance to change and of the unknown, as indicated in an email (below) to the Rapid Response Team as a vision and hope for the future. The context of the email when written, was that Wray had just completed his workforce certification and realized the value of collaboration and partnerships. In his email, he left them, the Rapid Response Team, an attachment of quality points to consider. This provided them knowledge and awareness for the intent of the meeting, and with the passage of time, became strategic seeds that germinated and grew for subsequent connections in the future.

From: Curtis Wray
Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 2:25 PM
Subject: Eastern Region Rapid Response Summit (CANX)

Good Afternoon: Rapid Response Team

About two weeks ago, I sent out an email notifying of a Rapid Response Summit at Paul D. Camp Community College and requested input as to the ability to attend such an event from members of the Rapid Response team in the Eastern Region. To date, I have received 4 responses; 2 in the affirmative and 2 in the negative. I am not surprised by and actually expected the lack of response or input, because this is all part of the required change that has to take place. Equally, I think that it is important to know that my request for such a collaborative meeting was based the Workforce Development Professional Certification model, approved by the Workforce Council within the Virginia Workforce Network (VWN). Training and knowledge are equally change agents. So unless the majority of us as Workforce Professionals have completed or received such training, which is currently in the voluntary, genesis, or infancy stages of broadly reaching the Workforce Development Professional population, then you may not be apprised or aware of the Customer Service, Communications, Collaboration and Problem-solving packaged training models and the frame of reference from which I was approaching or coming from in requesting such a meeting. A model of continuous improvement, where proactiveness, teamwork, and partnering in the sharing, caring, and discussion of concepts, weak points, strengths, and ideas actually diminishes conflict and strengthens all team members of the VWN. And, in my opinion, it makes us all more effective and efficient in providing the highest quality of service to the customer. I think we have a great Rapid Response team of partners in the Eastern Region, and we can only get better.

That said, and to this end, “it has been a long time coming, “but I believe and I am confident that change in Workforce Development will come to the Commonwealth to the point where meetings such as the one requested, will be the norm or the routine of a self-policing state to where we make ourselves better by discussing and identifying our own problems. It is very clear and unambiguous that we are not there yet; and, I shall press on with the indelible and undeniable faith that this too….shall pass. In the interim, however, because of where we currently are in bridging this chasm…I am canceling the Rapid Response Summit meeting scheduled for April 30, 2009. However, as impediments to change continue to falter, the attached, includes my points of discussion for the planned meeting, and I am providing this information optimistically and in tandem with providing feedback and input to generate creative thinking, and an example of sharing and caring…..a spark for the future.

So the first summit was a vision and event of opportunity that came into fruition, when the administrative and operational control of Rapid Response in Virginia was given to four regional community colleges on September 25, 2010. In conducting its first summit, the SEVA Rapid Response Team voluntarily took on bold, decisive, and proactive initiatives by approaching outreach or engagement in a holistic or three-pronged approach. The Team would be forward- leaning in their approaches; engaging the business/employer because they are the gatekeepers and employers of human capital. They would engage the impacted dislocated workers with quality and consistency of effort, those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, by providing them quality in knowledge and awareness of the path to the knowledge gateway to connect or reconnect to the workforce system. And finally, they would engage the partners to authentically communicate and collaborate to reach desired goals or end states in a holistic synergy of effort.

It is important to note that the first voluntary Rapid Response summit conducted in November 2010, was deemed so successful and necessary as an engagement method, that it was seen as a best practice and later included as a requirement for all regions in Virginia to conduct a quarterly summit in subsequent Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) between the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) and the contracted Community College with the Rapid Response Program. SEVA Rapid Response saw the Rapid Response summit as an opportunity to engender, build, and espouse trust, to continuously engage, to share ideas, to educate, and train partners and businesses on current and new initiatives by diminishing knowledge and familiarization deficits and in the sharing of ideas and best practices for future use. A key driver in this process was to produce a quality product of consistency and relevancy for the businesses, employees, and workforce partners to see efforts and initiatives as strategic and value-added for continued connections in the future.

Prominent Rapid Response Summits

Other prominent Rapid Response Summits held by SEVA Rapid Response were: February 7, 2012, Rapid Response Forecasting Team Meeting “Get Your Mind Right,” Operationalizing the Layoff Aversion Concept; November 19, 2012 and April 11, 2013, Connecting the Dots…Business and Workforce Systems Familiarization Summits; March 7, 2014, Rapid Response Forecasting Team Meeting “Developing Dominion Resources Rapid Reemployment Strategy; June 17, 2014, A Passion to Serve -A Focus on the Military Veteran as a Dislocated Worker; November 6, 2014, Impassioned Engagement: Better Serving Those Who Served ( A Partnership With SEVA Rapid Response and the Virginia Association of Colleges and Employers (VACE); June 10, 2015, Leadership Under Fire: Lessons From the Battle of Gettysburg; June 24, 2015, A Conversation with Workforce Development and the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM): Solutions to Keeping a Skilled Workforce Employed; November 2015, Understanding the Human Needs of Your Unemployed Customers; March 17, 2016, Building A Better Shipbuilding Workforce; June 9, 2016, Strategies for Navigating Change; November 16, 2016, Disaster Communication Strategic Planning, attendance of emergency managers and workforce system partners, “When the Triangle Flips,” PPT Presentation; March 28, 2017, “When the Triangle Flips,” PPT Presentation at the All Hazards Committee Conference.

The Future of Holistic Triangle Engagement

As we look forward to the future, SEVA Rapid Response has sought to be the ultimate and exceptional example of a partner within the workforce system; and, with the impending change in Rapid Response in Virginia (the move back to the Virginia Employment Commission), one of the most important lessons learned and culminating points of engagement, from an umbrella overarching view, is that we as a SEVA Team of Partners, overcame the inertia of resistance to change, to create the required momentum of lessons learned from the past, as proactive stackable building blocks for best practices and optimum collaboration and continuous improvement in the future. Triangle (holistic) Engagement…the business/employer, impacted employees, and workforce system partners are in a constant state of transition. And, within this process, knowledge and awareness are perishable assets in the current Knowledge and Information Age. This is especially true with the current turnover of the Baby Boomer Generation to the Millennial Generation and beyond, coupled with the influx of constant technology and the globalization of commerce and trade. With this mindset, the workforce and workplace are in constant flux, so holistic impassioned engagement keeps the knowledge gateways open so that businesses/employers, impacted employees, and workforce system partners can make informed up-to-date decisions based on the most current knowledge and awareness.

The reality is that the day of the stand-alone-silo entity, singularly forging ahead alone is dead. Authentic holistic Triangle Engagement and collaboration are expected behaviors of and within organizations governed by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Department of Labor (DOL), as we continue to make progress and move forward in our efforts in the future.