By IAN MUNRO
Daily News-Record 6/6/19
HARRISONBURG — Dozens of business leaders learned about the tax grants and incentives available to those who hire a diverse workforce at a Harrisonburg- Rockingham Chamber of Commerce event at the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center on Wednesday afternoon.
The first-of-its-kind chamber event, “Diversity in Business: Diversify Your Workforce to Strengthen Your Business,” featured various speakers who touched on a number of topics, including staffing, diversity and incentives.
The national unemployment rates for workers with and without disabilities have hit historic lows, at 3.2% and 6.3%, respectively, in April. This labor shortage forces employers to look harder and wider at the pool of candidates to bridge their labor gap.
It also increases the competition between employers for workers.
This often results in a more diverse workforce, including veterans, workers with disabilities, and those of different backgrounds, just to name a few.
The full list of characteristics protected under federal or Virginia anti-discrimination laws include race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, age, veteran status, marital status and lactation.
Diversity can be a strong driver for competitiveness in firms, according to data from Forbes.
Companies in the top quartile for gender and ethnic diversity outperform competition by margins of 15% and 35%, respectively, according to Forbes.
On top of the competition incentives, there are economic incentives as well.
“Do Work Incentives Work?” was the name of the presentation given by Aline Jackson-Diggs, placement counselor for the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services, Jennifer Kester, assistant human resources director of Recruitment and Employment Services at James Madison University, and Chase Martin, a human resources specialist for the city of Harrisonburg.
Some of the programs the presenters told the crowd about included the
Work Opportunity Tax Credit, On-the-Job Training, and Unpaid Work Experience.
The Work Opportunity Tax Credit, or WOTC, is targeted to help the hiring of summer youth, qualified veterans and ex-felons, recipients of five government assistance programs, and vocational rehabilitation referrals.
Benefits vary based on the industry of the employer and the number of hires from the aforementioned populations.
For example, health care employers can receive $60,000 for 500 hires, the lowest benefit, while hospitality employers can receive $1,040,000 in benefits for 5,000 hires, the highest benefit.
The benefits are in the form of a federal tax credit from Congress, and the goal is for employees to move from economic dependency to self-sufficiency.
The On-The-Job Reimbursement Program works by having the opportunity that the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services reimburse the employer 50% of the workers’ wages for a “training period” of up to six months.
The department also supports the Unpaid Work Experience program.
In this program, the department works with the employer to help connect certain potential workers who match certain needs from the employer, and gives the worker and employer time to decide if they would like to continue to work together.
The Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services will also cover liability coverage for qualifying clients.
The Virginia Jobs Investment Program, or VJIP, is actually a composite of four programs, and is focused on training or retraining employees.
For example, the program would apply for workers who previously handwrote orders in a stockroom and now need to be trained to use new electronic equipment, Jackson-Diggs said.
Those interested in this program are suggested to reach out to Brian Shull, the economic development director of Harrisonburg.
Another local source of incentives for hiring a diverse workforce is the Valley to Virginia grant, originally awarded to the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The purpose of Valley to Virginia is to “address the nation’s critical skills shortage through registered apprenticeship programs,” according to the presentation.
Almost 218,000 craft jobs will be available in September 2022, according to Build Your Future, a construction career center.
Those interested in that program can contact Debby Hopkins, the chief workforce officer and program director of the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board. Wednesday’s meeting met its goal of over 100 attendees, including speakers, said event organizer Chris Jones, the chair of the diversity council of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce and Harrisonburg city councilman.
Jones and the chamber are already looking at holding another such event in the near future, though a date has not been set, said Frank Tamberrino, president and CEO of the chamber.