COL Joe Messina, Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander , center, hosted a Community Leaders' Luncheon at the Officers Club, Feb. 28, to collaborate on ways to ease the hiring shortages felt across the region. Rodney Lusk, Fairfax County Supervisor, Franconia District, outlined steps taken by the W.I.S.H. Center that prepares lower-income workers for steady jobs in the health, tech and construction sectors.

Collaboration in Focus: Fort Belvoir, Community Leaders Navigate Employment Hurdles

Col. Joe Messina, Fort Belvoir garrison commander, collaborated with more than 60 community leaders, educators, and local politicians at the Fort Belvoir Officers’ Club, Feb. 28, about finding creative ways to find, attract and retain some of the best talent available in the region at his Community Leaders’ Luncheon.

Col. Messina was joined by Maj. Gen. Trevor Bredenkamp, Commanding General, Joint Task Force – National Capital Region, and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, who thanked the community for its continued relationship with Fort Belvoir.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship between the Department of Defense and the local and state governments,” Bredenkamp said. “It’s just a critical relationship to have, so it’s great to see this big turnout today. We rely on being able to benefit from the community, writ large, to fill critical positions here on Fort Belvoir and other installations, so thank you.”

Messina reminded the attendees that Fort Belvoir is a joint base without the label, as members of every branch of the Armed Forces is stationed on the sprawling installation.

“The primary workforce here is a civilian DoD workforce with an annual economic impact of over $25 billion and more than 200,000 people that need support on a daily basis and provide services to,” Messina said. “We are a vital partner to the communities in northern Virginia.

“My top priority has been installation readiness, and Fort Belvoir faces several challenges in today's economic landscape. Including very low unemployment rates in the region. We always think of low unemployment as a good thing, but there are second and third-order effects to that, that we're all familiar with,” he added, explaining that many positions in security, engineering and childcare remain unfilled.

The keynote speaker, Rodney Lusk, Fairfax County Franconia district Supervisor, highlighted a possible solution to both low wages and an insufficient work force.

Rodney Lusk, Fairfax County Supervisor, Franconia District, briefs community leaders on the WISH Center, which trains local residents for existing and anticipated jobs in the region.

Supervisor Lusk outlined the Workforce Innovation Skills Hub (WISH), a unique job creation model he helped to stand up in his district. The 8,500 square foot Hybla Valley Community Center has become a first-of-its-kind workforce training and job placement facility with hands-on exposure to construction trades and cutting-edge technology jobs such as drones and fiber optic splicing. Lusk credited the collaboration of numerous educational, health and employment organizations for turning this vision into reality.

“We're starting with jobs that will pay at least $20 per hour and what we're making sure there's a ladder of opportunity up so that there's a chance for them to get additional certification, additional training that will lead to higher paid positions,” Lusk said, adding that WISH is also there to aid the military community.

“At my first meeting with Col. Messina, I said we want to actualize a way for us to support transitioning servicemen and women, as well as military spouses. We see the importance of helping them and we believe that our program could be of interest,” he said, adding that veterans could also benefit from the job training.

Lusk’s presentation was augmented by several civilian and garrison updates.

·         Victor Hoskins, with Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, explained the success that FCEDA has garnered while collaborating with Fort Belvoir in not only jobs fairs, but also in educational events to promote opportunities for scholarships, on-the-job training and transitional programs available to the area’s service members departing the armed forces.

·         Krysti Pereira, with Blue Star Families, outlined the non-profit organization’s efforts in military spouse employment support, providing training in transferrable or remote-work skills, such as database management. Pereira also said that the Blue Star Annual Survey revealed that a sense of belonging helps Families thrive, so they launched Blue Star Welcome Week each September.

·         Holly Dougherty, President, Mount Vernon Springfield Chamber of Commerce, stressed the Chamber’s partnership with Fort Belvoir, and outlined the job fairs and entrepreneurial workshops hosted in support of military Families and transitioning Soldiers.

·         Kiersty Duncan, Fort Belvoir Transition Services Manager, underscored the variety of educational opportunities available on post taught by the Department of Labor, Veterans Administration and Small Business Administration.

·         Laureen DuPree, with Army Community Service’s Employment Readiness Program, outlined several upcoming career events, Such as Bridges to Success and reminded attendees of bimonthly Spouse Career Readiness classes.

Laureen DuPree, Fort Belvoir's Employment Readiness Program

Col. Messina said that collaborative events like the Community Leaders’ Luncheon has already made a difference, pointing to the March 6 Bridges to Success Skills Fair at the National Museum of the U.S. Army, the result of a prior collaboration with Fairfax County Economic Development and Fairfax County Public Schools.

“It's the kind of collaboration that that this gathering has created, and we hope to find more shared ideas. I am absolutely committed to continuing this partnership.”

Paul Lara, Public Affairs Specialist