The Talent Gap: What Northern Nevada Growth Means to Area Businesses

by Corrine Casanova

According to a five-year forecast looking at northern Nevada’s job growth between 2015-2019, our region can expect 52,400 new jobs by 2019. The EPIC Report predicted this 10 percent increase of brand new jobs to the area back in 2015 and we are well on our way to achieving that. This is a far cry from 2011 when Nevada had a 14.5 percent unemployment rate. Boasting a pro-business tax friendly climate, transportation advantages, outdoor recreation and an increasingly more diverse skilled workforce, northern Nevada is becoming a sought after place to both work and live. In addition to creating an infrastructure that works, locating and training a workforce for this rapid growth takes some foresight.

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Enter Valerie Cotta, Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN) workforce development program manager, who foresees the workforce challenges and opportunities this region will continue to face as more companies like Switch, Tesla, Apple, Amazon and Panasonic choose to be in Greater Reno-Sparks-Tahoe. Her position was created at EDAWN to connect the workforce organizations that were doing good things to collaboratively do great things together. The Workforce Consortium (co-led by EDAWN and the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce) helps grow the workforce candidate pool by informing the community about in-demand jobs, associated training, and companies hiring, while removing workforce entry barriers for different populations.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), Washoe County School District, Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) and the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) partnered to create the Manufacturing LEAP career path, that creates entrance ramps to education and exit ramps to appropriate work that starts at the high school level, moves through college and can end at the university level as an engineering professional. In addition, GOED, TMCC and Nevada JobConnect developed training for in-demand manufacturing jobs for people with no previous manufacturing experience. TMCC teaches Panasonic Preferred Pathway Program, known as P3, for people interested in jobs at the Gigafactory, the Hamilton Company or one of the hundreds of other regional manufacturing companies. P3 is self-paced and can be completed in as little as four to eight weeks full-time, or up to three months part-time. This allows currently employed people to train for better paying jobs while working. State of Nevada- Workforce Innovation (WINN) funded scholarships are available and it includes a guaranteed interview with Panasonic and the Hamilton Company upon graduation.

To create visibility for our region, EDAWN teamed up with 12 consulting companies and asked them to write articles on different topics including workforce expansion, employee recruitment and how to retain top talent and become better leaders. These articles were disseminated through the EDAWN Executive Update, the community emails which summarize activities developments and resources. To receive the EDAWN Executive Update sign up at

Cotta’s job is continually evolving. “As regional industries diversify, our students, parents, teachers and professionals need to know about the change so they can be prepared. The 10 percent job growth in five years is a big demand on a community our size. Layered with the growth is a nationwide talent gap because of the larger number of baby boomers retiring and the smaller number of millennials joining the workforce. Additionally, the generational differences change the workforce dynamics. Also, nationwide there are not enough people with math skills needed for the current and future growth in Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) jobs. Right now we are in a good position to take our challenges and translate them into our biggest opportunities.” According to Cotta, we have the opportunity to be ahead of the nation in creating ways to recruit, retain and engage employees. There are some northern Nevada businesses that are already taking innovative approaches to recruiting and retaining employees.

Creating Work Environments that Work

Unique work environments help local companies find new ways to keep employees loyal. One of these companies is a manufacturing company which moved its headquarters to Sparks in 1996. The founder, Luther Haws, invented the original drinking fountain back in 1906. In addition to drinking fountains Haws also manufacturers emergency drench showers and safety eyewashes. It’s a global company that utilizes a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) which encourages autonomy and accountability. Cotta describes it this way, “They believe their employees want to achieve, and work as a team, but need support to be successful. They have a focus on performance rather than time spent, so there is no need to monitor work hours or work location. Supervisors define the realistic work goals and schedules with their employees. Supervisors expect the employees to run the projects, and work with those who need to make it happen. The supervisor support to remove hiccups or barriers when they occur. It’s a very different environment. They don’t necessarily need employees in your chair from 9-5, they care about accountability and that you get the job done.”

In downtown Reno, a casino resort opened a Family Medical Clinic in May 2017 for their employees and families. This is the first on site medical clinic at a northern Nevada resort-casino. They also promote heavily from within the organization.

A distribution company provides affordable natural organic products delivered right to your door. Their philosophy is to create a team atmosphere in the workplace where accountability is key. While they want their employees working hard while at work they want them rested too. They do this by offering employees options to work four 10-hour shifts or three 12-hour shifts. Cotta explained, “If you ask employees would they prefer a four 10-hour shift, not everyone will say yes but a lot of people will. There are many things companies can do without major cost. By offering three 12-hour shifts companies immediately have access to a larger candidate pool, including students who have Fridays and the weekends off.” Creating part-time jobs is another way to increase your candidate pool to gain access to people who prefer to work part-time because of other obligations.

Employee Retention is a Result of the Nevada Apprenticeship Project

In 2015, TMCC was awarded an American Apprenticeship Initiative Grant which will help prepare apprentices with high-skilled, hands-on jobs. Both job seekers and employers can contact Nevada’s Apprenticeship Project at to learn about this unique State of Nevada, Office of Workforce Innovation (OWINN) funded program that provides non-traditional opportunities to both workers and employers. Companies of any size can create an apprenticeship program and hire for any in-demand job. At TMCC, the two most popular programs are for Certified Nursing Assistants and Industrial Mechanic Technicians. Both programs have candidate waiting lists from which companies may consider to hire an apprentice. The Department of Labor statistics show the average Apprentice retention rate is 91 percent.

According to Cotta social connection is often underrated in the workplace. “Some people think work is your work time and your human time is spending time with your family. Yet we are all human no matter what time of the day it is. When employees have a social connection at work, through events, challenges, and volunteering there is a much higher likelihood that they will stay. Social connections at work are incredibly valuable for both business retention and their employees’ well-being.”

“Strategically, we are the right location for manufacturing and distribution. With the consumer trend to buy online and select next day delivery, and Greater Reno-Sparks-Tahoe’s ability to serve 60 million customer with cost-effective ground transportation, we will continue to see these industries choose our region.” she said.

If you would like more information on workforce programs and resources to address the talent gap in your organization, join the Workforce Consortium on Wed. Jan. 17 from 10:30am to 12pm at the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce.


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