Category Archives: Labor & workforce

Roanoke Gears up to Recruit Young Talent

Experience Leadership is a Roanoke program aimed at recruiting and retaining talent. photo credit: Roanoke Times

The Roanoke Valley is making the leap from thinking about economic development as recruiting corporate investment to recruiting skilled and educated workers. As the national economy continues to grow, the main bottleneck to regional growth is the availability of a workforce with the skills that employers are looking for. Reports the Roanoke Times:

The Roanoke Regional Partnership, an economic development organization, has made a concerted effort to recruit talent to the region. After collaborating with its eight localities, the business community, tourism officials, colleges and universities, and professional organizations such as the regional chambers and Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council, the partnership is developing new and creative ways to recruit talent, ranging from new college graduates to professionals with several years of experience.

Roanoke employers are offering summer internships, organizing networking events for young people, and trying to create workplace cultures that offer more relaxed dress codes, gourmet coffee machines, office beer taps, and more vacation days in the hope of appealing to young people. Continue reading

VEDP Snags Recognition as Best Economic Development Organization in Nation

Site Selection magazine has awarded the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) its Prosperity Cup as “the most competitive state-level economic development group” in the country. That’s quite a turnaround for an economic development organization that only two-and-a-half years previously the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) had found to be inefficient, ineffective, and suffering from “systemic deficiencies.”

The magazine credited VEDP’s jump to first place, from sixth in 2017 and 2018, to CEO Stephen Moret for assembling a team that’s “serious about economic development..” Virginia’s success in nailing down two mega-projects, the $3 billion Micron Semiconductor deal and the nationally touted, $2.5 billion Amazon HQ2 project, certainly didn’t hurt.

Amazon and Micron “were obviously two signature wins for Virginia in the last several months, but there are a lot of other great things going on all over the state,” Moret told Site Selection. In addition to the two mega-projects, Virginia snagged an impressive $5 billion of investment in smaller deals.

Continue reading

Dumping, Again, on the Lowest-Paid Folks

A recent article in the Washington Post highlights an issue I alluded to in my recent post on government outsourcing  functions.  To summarize:  The Alexandria school superintendent’s budget proposal called for eliminating 30 custodian positions and outsourcing the jobs to a private company.  (The system already contracts with private companies for custodial services in many schools.  This proposal would have completed the outsourcing.)  The reason for the proposal was budget savings.  After a lot of blowback, the superintendent relented some, proposing that custodians who had worked for the school system for at least five years could keep their positions during the next school year.  That left 10 custodians facing the loss of their jobs.

This sort of outsourcing is common at all levels of government.  In Richmond, the custodians for state buildings are not state employees, but work for a company that has contracted with the state to clean the offices.  The same is true for security guards at the entrances to state buildings, with the exception of the Capitol Police. Continue reading

Certifications and Upward Mobility II

Certifications and Upward Mobility

I have been critical of the Virginia higher-ed establishment’s goal of making Virginia the best-educated state in the country. The goal is arbitrary and unconnected to the demand for higher-ed degrees. Pursuing the goal could result in over-investment in higher-education at great cost to students who wind up indebted and under-employed, and at the expense of lower-income Virginians and minorities who can’t keep up with the never-ending degree inflation.

However, the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia does deserve credit for defining “best educated” as including not just four-year and advanced degrees but educational certifications, which recognize mastery of narrow skill sets in demand in the labor market. And SCHEV aims to boost programs, mostly in community colleges, that provide “certifications.

Now comes the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia with data showing the distribution of degrees and certifications granted in major regions across the state (measured by credentials granted per 100,000 population in the 2016-17 school year). Due to technical difficulties, I will replicate that relevant chart in a separate post. Writes Spencer Shanholz on the StatChat blog: Continue reading

The Cost of Doing the Wrong Thing

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), an entity that normally restricts its focus to higher education, has issued a report calling for reforming Virginia’s educational system from stem-to-stern, from pre-K to higher ed. The report, “The Cost of Doing Nothing: An Urgent Call to Increase Educational Attainment in the Commonwealth,” is predicated on the common-sense analogy of an educational “pipeline.” As children and youth move through the educational system, each stage builds upon the stage preceding it. Virginia’s colleges and universities cannot remedy deficiencies in educational achievement that occur long before students apply to college.

The report makes a useful contribution to the public policy debate in Virginia by viewing investments in human capital as a “system” rather than as discrete silos such as pre-K, primary education, secondary education, workforce training, and higher education. Unfortunately, the authors reach the all-too-familiar conclusion that the system requires more programs, more initiatives and mo’ money from taxpayers at every juncture. Continue reading

Virginia, Antifragility, and the Next Recession

Dust Bowl refugees in the 1930s. Will Virginia be on the delivering end or receiving end of the next recession-induced migration?

In the previous post I argued that there are large pockets of hidden risk in the U.S. and global economies that could trigger a devastating economic downturn. I’m not predicting that a recession is imminent — I do not profess to see the future — but I would suggest that only fools would pretend that these risks do not exist and fail to protect themselves from them.

As I have detailed in previous posts, Virginia is highly vulnerable to an economic downturn. The consolation is that we’ll have plenty of company. The Old Dominion is hardly the only state in the union that has failed to take advantage of 10 years of economic expansion to buffer itself from the next recession, which, unless President Trump has repealed the law of business cycles, is inevitable. What we don’t know is the timing. Do we have five years to adapt, or only one? Continue reading

And Now… Some Mind-Blowing Data about Rural Virginia

Source: StatChat blog

Rural Virginia may have seen a decline in the number of jobs since 2011, but get this: Incomes have been rising faster than in Virginia’s metropolitan areas — 12% since 2010 compared to just 5% for the metros, says Hamilton Lombard on the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group blog, StatChat. Likewise, poverty rates have fallen more in Virginia’s rural areas. Continue reading

Changing How Virginia Thinks about Economic Development

Stephen Moret, CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), is doing more than closing billion-dollar deals and resurrecting Virginia’s reputation as a top state to do business. He’s trying to change how Virginians think about economic development — or at least change what outsiders think about how Virginians think about economic development.

The VEDP has done something it has never done in the dozens of years that I have followed the partnership — launched a quarterly publication, the Virginia Economic Review, that will, in Moret’s words, “provide an inside look at Virginia’s economy, its diverse array of world-class companies, its amazing talent, and its stunning natural beauty, as well as insights from national thought leaders.”

With apologies to Oldsmobile, this is not your father’s sales material. With a focus on tech companies and tech talent, the inaugural edition interviews Amy Liu, a nationally known thinker about economic development with the Brookings Institution (cited previously on this blog); Peter Cappelli, director of the human resources center at the Wharton School; and Dan Restuccia, chief product and analytics officer of Burning Glass Technologies, a labor market analytics firm, among others.

Some of the insights contained within: Continue reading

Addiction as a Workforce Development Issue

How ubiquitous is drug abuse in Virginia’s workforce? In western Virginia, it’s mind-numbingly pervasive.

“In many environments, as many as 50 percent of employee applicants who are eligible on the basis of their training, skills, and background fail to be employable because they fail to pass a drug screen,” Dr. Bob Trestman, chairman of psychiatry for Carilion Clinic, told Roanoke-area employers in a panel talk yesterday, reports the Roanoke Times.

Most employers have Employee Assistance Programs but Trestman said employees are reluctant to use them because addicts are stigmatized. “We need to think of them as people with an illness. Then we can reframe how we approach care and treatment and engage and support them in the workplace safely.” Continue reading

Yes, Let’s Restore Drivers Licenses. But…

The General Assembly spiked bills in the 2019 session that would have ended the practice of suspending the drivers licenses of Virginians who fail to pay court fines and other obligations unrelated to driving. Without some kind of repercussion, foes of the bills argued, those obligations often would go unpaid.

Now Governor Ralph Northam is proposing to use the budget as an end run around the failed legislation. He is adding an amendment to the budget bill to end the licenses-suspension practice and reinstate driving privileges for more than 600,000 Virginians.

“Having a driver’s license is essential to a person’s ability to maintain a job and provide for their families,” Northam said at a press conference yesterday. “It is especially pertinent to those that live in rural Virginia because we don’t have public transportation that is adequate to get to employment.” Continue reading

UVa Raising Minimum Wage to $15

Demonstrators backing the Living Wage in a rally outside the Rotunda earlier this month. Photo credit: Cavalier Daily

I’ll give the University of Virginia credit for raising the minimum wage it pays its employees to $15 an hour. The University is putting its money where its proverbial mouth is. It doesn’t just preach social justice for others — it practices its version of social justice itself.

It turns out that increasing the minimum wage for 1,400 employees on the Grounds is a bit trickier than envisioned, however. As the Cavalier Daily reports, “a variety of legal barriers may complicate that endeavor for those who are employed by external contractors rather than the University itself.” UVa President Jim Ryan said the increase, which will go into full effect Jan.1, 2020,  will apply to only 60% of full-time employees who earn less than $15 an hour. But the university is working to extend the same wage to outside contractors. Said Ryan: “This is legally and logistically more complicated, but our goal is to make it happen.” Continue reading

Virginia Manufacturing Jobs Still in Decline

Source: StatChat blog

Virginia has lost nearly 136,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000, a 36% decrease, according to Kyaw Khine writing in the StatChat blog. The losses occurred mostly in the latter phases of the 2000 and 2007 recessions, but, far from making up the losses during the last eight years of economic expansion, manufacturing jobs have been treading water.

Further, Khine cites long-term industry projections by the Virginia Employment Commission that employment in Virginia’s manufacturing sector will decrease by another 5.7% between 2016 and 2026.

Khine’s numbers call into question the economic-development priorities of Virginia’s non-metropolitan areas which continue to invest resources in building a manufacturing base as well as the Northam administration’s well-intentioned goal of ensuring that no region gets left behind economically. Continue reading

Passing Class No Guarantee of Certificate In New State Workforce Program

Average earnings three years before and one after completing the VCCS FastForward workforce certificate program. Source: SCHEV. Click for larger view.

Virginia’s FastForward workforce credential program now in its third year is showing good success in getting students through training, but a high number of people in some programs do not earn the matching certificate.  Those who achieve both usually show the highest wage growth.

For those who went into the program earning under $20,000 a year, the subsequent increase in earnings is dramatic, almost 140 percent year over year.  “We are serving a very high need population, even compared to the traditional community college population,” said Lori Dwyer, assistant vice chancellor for programs for the Virginia Community College System.   Continue reading

Virginians Have a Right to Free Speech, Not a Right to a Job

Can an employer in Virginia fire an employee for his loathsome political views?

Such a thing is happening in Patrick County, where emergency management technician Alex McNabb is being fired for making derogatory comments and using racial slurs on a neo-Nazi podcast. There is no evidence that McNabb has discriminated against anyone while providing emergency care, but his online persona often tells stories about being an EMT interacting with African-Americans.

The board of directors of the JEB Stuart Rescue Squad voted unanimously Sunday to terminate McNabb’s employment, reports the Martinsville Bulletin.

Legally, the case should be cut-and-dried. Virginia is an employment-at-will state, and employers have the right to fire anyone for any reason (save on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation). McNabb has a constitutional right to freedom of speech. In other words, government cannot use its powers of coercion to silence him. But he doesn’t have a constitutional right to be protected from the consequences of his speech. Employers have a right to disassociate themselves from people whose views they find abhorrent.  Suck it up, dude.

Now, let’s make sure we apply the employment-at-will principal consistently, not just when the offender is a neo-Nazi.