Virginia needs to build up its workforce training system
Virginia’s workforce training system is strained, and continuous budget cuts to its vaunted system of higher education threaten to leave the state behind as a good place to do business or get a quality education.
That message, delivered as a “call to arms,” in the words of one speaker, came across loud and clear during Wednesday’s 2014 Virginia Summit on Economic Competitiveness & Higher Education at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.
Sponsored by the Council on Virginia’s Future, Grow by Degrees — a campaign of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council — and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the event drew more than 400 people from around the state. Tables were filled with college presidents, politicians, lobbyists and company representatives in need of skilled workers.
Earlier this week, state legislators and Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced an agreement to cut state-supported institutions of higher education by 3.3 percent a year, or about $45 million, as part of plan to deal with shortfalls in the next biennial budget. A special legislative session convenes Thursday to act on the budget.
Dealing with budget revenue shortfalls and federal cutbacks in defense programs, a big part of Virginia’s economy, has created a sense of urgency among higher education leaders who called for quick, collaborative action by business, higher education, community colleges and the state’s workforce development programs, especially on a regional level.
“We are in a crisis. We need to admit that and do something about it,” G. Gilmer Minor III, chairman of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, told the conference.
While expressing frustration, Gilmore added, “I also have the optimism that we have the talent and resources to move forward.”
According to him, the state’s higher education council is developing a six-year strategic plan that will address some of the issues. Last month, McAuliffe, who spoke during yesterday’s conference, launched a workforce training initiative to help people attain industry credentials, while improving employment opportunities for veterans. The plan includes a goal for the attainment of 50,000 credentials, licensures, apprenticeships and associate degrees by Virginians. It also features “The Patriot Pledge,” which will ask 10,000 Virginia businesses to pledge to hire more veterans.
McAuliffe, who spoke during yesterday's conference, said Virginia “needs to build a new creative, innovative economy that will allow us to compete in the global market. The institutions of higher learning and the business community are the engines to do that,” he said.
The Virginia Business Higher Education Council announced a new goal at Wednesday’s conference on the number of college diplomas that its says Virginia needs to award to remain competitive. The group’s initial goal was to see the state award 100,000 degrees by 2030. It bumped that up to 168,600, a number that would boost Virginia’s college-educated pool of adults ages 25 to 64.
Aligning Virginia’s workforce with skills needed by today’s businesses was a topic that kept coming up. While four-year degrees are important, Will Powers, executive vice president and CFO of Rolls-Royce North America, said during a panel discussion on regional workforce development that “skilled workers — people working on shop floors, running machines, I would tell you that that’s the part of the system that’s not healthy now.”
His company, which is investing $500 million in two aerospace manufacturing faciliites in Prince George County that are expected to eventually employ 500 people, currently sends some of its factory workers overseas for training in Germany. “That’s an unsustainable proposition for a company like Rolls-Royce … The mega-projects, the Boeings or BMWs, they’re not coming,” he says, unless Virginia creates an apprentice academy or some other project to scale up its skilled workforce.
Powers applauded a recent move by Del. Kirk Cox, the majority leader in the Virginia House of Delegates, who called for a $25 million budget amendment that would lay the groundwork for an Advanced Manufacturing Apprentice Academy Center and up to four Regional Centers of Excellence to strengthen workforce vocational training opportunities.
The Academy, to be located in Prince George County, would train students in such areas as advanced manufacturing, data analytics, bioscience, and information technology. The center also hopes to receive matching funding from the federal government, said Powers during an interview, and the state’s Tobacco Commission.
The academy is sorely needed, he said, because “beyond 500 jobs, the workforce-training systems in Virginia would be extremely strained to commission skilled workforce training.”
Panel speaker Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, called for the state to re-examine the lack of financial aid for students who enroll in licensure and workforce-training certification programs. Currently, nearly all financial aid is restricted to credit-degree programs. “A 16-week program can cost students thousands of dollars, but will land them a job. The commonwealth needs to look at the rules that put up financial barriers for the thousands of folks that need these jobs.”
Another theme that emerged was the importance of regional collaboration. Luncheon keynote speaker Bruce Katz, co-author of “The Metropolitan Revolution,” said metro areas, not the federal government — will be the new thought leaders in the 21st century economy.
Along with others, Katz made the case that Virginia needs to diversify its economy away from federal spending. Currently, about 28 percent of Virginia’s economy comes from such spending, he said. With another round of sequestration scheduled for the near future and shifts in government spending towards more entitlements to serve an aging population, “It’s going to hit you hard,” he added.
Katz spoke of metro areas around the country that have reinvested in a specific area, arrived at through regional collaboration. For instance, Denver invested $4.2 billion in a light rail transit system that helped create jobs and is drawing new investment. “It’s time to rethink power. Let the metros lead,” said Katz.
Virginia has three large metro areas, he added — in Richmond, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads — that have 62 percent of the state’s population, 72 percent of its jobs and 75 percent of its economic output.
In his remarks, Gov. McAuliffe said the jobs of the future in Virginia will be in cybersecurity, data analytics, biotechnology, health care and energy. “These are good-paying jobs that can't be erased by anything the federal government does,” he said.