Despite the pandemic, Northern Virginia’s robust job market remains strong—with more than 60,000 job openings in the region, including 34,000 in Fairfax County. But interviewing and hiring can be a challenge because of social-distancing protocols in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) has stepped in with virtual job fairs that connect job-seekers with companies that cannot hold in-person events.
The FCEDA has hosted two virtual career fairs: one targeted for tech professionals on Tuesday that drew more than 800 attendees, and one for recent college graduates on May 28 that drew more than 900 attendees. In early fall the FCEDA plans to host a virtual career fair for obtaining internships.
“COVID-19 has created an environment where a virtual event is essential, because we can’t be face-to-face now and because the pandemic has had such an impact on the economy. This is how we do this safely and at scale,” said Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of the FCEDA. “We have thousands of job openings in Northern Virginia – about half of them tech jobs. We as economic development professionals need to be facilitators for companies that need to acquire talent.”
On July 28, the NOVA Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will host a Diversity and Inclusion Virtual Career Fair in partnership with the FCEDA. The event will feature a wide range of job opportunities for a multicultural audience.
Participants at the virtual career fairs browse companies in a virtual lobby, enter companies’ booths, view open positions, engage in video conferencing and chat with HR representatives in real-time – all from the comfort of their homes. There is no charge to attend the virtual career fairs.
The career fairs are part of the FCEDA talent initiative funded last year by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. The initiative also includes a new website, www.workinnorthernvirginia.com, that highlights Fairfax County and Northern Virginia as a great place to find a job, live and play.
“Being able to connect companies with job-seekers is a testament to the vision of the Board of Supervisors to understand the need to retain, attract and grow talent, which is even more acute now because of COVID-19,” Hoskins said. “We thank Chairman Jeff McKay and the entire board for supporting our initiative.”
“I was delighted to hear about the success of the EDA’s virtual career fairs,” McKay said. “Fairfax County has worked hard to create a resilient economic base centered on technology. Sadly, there is a significant need to connect people with available jobs, but I’m glad that because of the foundation we have built we can help provide these opportunities. The road to recovery will require coming together and finding creative solutions.”
The emphasis on virtual career fairs comes as the Washington, D.C., region wins more acclaim as a technology center. Yesterday, CBRE, the world’s largest real estate firm, issued its 2020 Scoring Tech Talent report that ranks the 50 largest technology markets in the U.S. and Canada. The DMV jumped two spots to #2, behind only the San Francisco Bay area. The CBRE scorecard uses 13 metrics to measure each market’s depth, vitality and attractiveness to companies seeking tech talent and to tech workers seeking employment.
During the virtual career fair for tech professionals on Tuesday, attendees engaged in 1,570 chats with 17 companies that had more than 4,000 open jobs.
“To have more than 1,700 attend our first two career fairs is amazing. It goes to show you that people need work,” Hoskins said. “We brought together 13 companies in the first career fair and 17 in the second. The fact that we could do this in a short amount of time also shows that the need for talent in Northern Virginia is extraordinary. Our challenge is to help companies meet that demand.”
Tuesday’s event drew notice from far beyond Northern Virginia. Michael Walthers, an information technology professional with more than 20 years of experience, “attended” from his home in Bettendorf, Iowa.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to interview with three vendors and felt I could concisely convey my professional skills during the chat with recruiters,” Walthers said. “The virtual fair allowed me to participate from my home, and I look forward to participating in future virtual fairs.”
Another emphasis of the career fairs is on diversity and inclusion. Minority-owned firms have been among the companies interviewing at the fairs, while historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) directed recent grads to the May 28 fair and served as partners for the July 14 event along with a number of organizations that represent historically disadvantaged populations.
“One of the things the technology platform allows us to do is access a diverse talent pool from historically black colleges and universities,” Hoskins said. “Many of these colleges are not well-connected to companies in our market. This is a straightforward way to connect HBCU college and alumni talent to our companies and job opportunities.”
“Every tech company has an interest in a diverse talent pool, so we have brought in the HBCUs, Women in Coding, the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and veterans organizations to broaden the connections these companies have,” Hoskins added.
A diverse set of companies interviewed candidates this week’s event, from small firms to Fortune 500 companies: Amazon Web Services; AppGuard; CGI; Customer Value Partners; Expedition Technology; EntropyZero Consulting; FireEye; General Dynamics Information Technology; Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE); Ipsun Solar; Leidos; ManTech International; MicroHealth; Microsoft; NTT Data Federal; Serco, Inc.; and SOSi.
“I was able to find many extremely qualified candidates within the DMV as well as other parts of the country,” said Becca Dugan, recruitment marketing manager at HPE. “The amount of viable candidates and those with extra credentials was surprising and very helpful for our recruiting efforts.”
At the college grad career fair in May, 13 companies interviewed candidates: 22nd Century Technologies; Boost; Brazen; C2 Technologies; Carahsoft; Devensoft; Harmonia; ManTech; Northrop Grumman; NTT Data Federal; SAMS; Sparksoft; and Star Cypress Partners.
“The virtual college career fair was definitely one of the best events that I and my team have participated in. We are still talking about how great the event was and how impressed we were with the talent, said Staci L. Redmon, founder and CEO of SAMS, a service-disabled veteran, woman- and minority-owned technology and digital transformation services company. “We have 75 candidates in our pipeline.”
The CBRE rankings published yesterday puts the highest weight on the concentration of tech talent in an area. Other factors include average educational attainment rates, tech-degree completions and the concentration of millennials in the labor pool. The Washington area ranks #2 or #3 nationally in all those categories.
Hoskins said he believes perception of the Washington region as a technology hub lags behind the reality of rankings such as CBRE’s, and that initiatives such as the virtual career fairs can build the DMV’s reputation as a diversified technology hub.
“By letting the talent pool know about these opportunities, we really are building the brand of the region as a tech center,” Hoskins said. “We’ll continue to build our brand by attracting the talent. The talent coming here and staying here will build our brand.”
Find out more about FCEDA’s virtual career fairs by visiting FCEDA’s talent website: www.workinnorthernvirginia.com and clicking on “Virtual Career Fairs” and “COVID-19 Job Resources.”