Category Archives: Labor & workforce

Community Colleges and the Opportunity Society

Increase in undergraduate, in-state tuition & fees between 2015-16 academic year and 2019-20 academic year. Data source: SCHEV

by James A. Bacon

What does it take to create an Opportunity Society? One critical element is providing Virginians with the skills they need to be employable in the occupations of the future. Nearly three out of five jobs created between now and 2026 will be “middle skill” jobs requiring community- or career-college training, not a four-year college degree. A majority of Virginians, therefore, will look to the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) for their ticket to the middle class.

Virginia’s community college system doesn’t get its due. The VCCS board is acutely aware of the affordability issue, and it has made it a priority to limit increases in tuition and fees. I thought it would be interesting to contrast the VCCS’s success in that regard to the runaway tuition-and-fees increases at Virginia’s public four-year residential colleges. I took the latest data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) Tuition and Fees database to compare increases between the 2015-16 academic year and the current 2019-20 academic year.

You can see from the chart above that the community colleges have done a far superior job of keeping charges under control. Community colleges on average increased T&F only 8.1% over the four-year period compared to a range for the four-years of 10.1% for Virginia State University to 22% for the College of William & Mary. (Richard Bland, a two-year residential college is an extreme outlier.)

What accounts for the difference? Continue reading

Crash and Burn: How Misguided Policies Ruin Lives

by James A. Bacon

Give Richmond educators credit for brutal honesty. A presentation of the school system’s five-year plan surfaced some devastating data: Only one in ten Richmond high school students is ready for college and a career, according to College Board criteria. If it’s any comfort, that number is up from 9% in the 2017-18 school year.

“Finally we can demonstrate with empirical evidence that RPS has failed our students and our families and our city,” said Board member Jonathan Young, as quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. That sentiment was echoed by Superintendent Jason Kamras. “It’s devastating. We, the adults, have failed our kids for years.”

Indeed, the educational system has not only failed Richmond’s predominantly African-American students, it has shepherded many young people into college programs from which they subsequently dropped out. Left unsaid in the analysis is that college drop-outs are typically saddled with thousands of dollars in student debt, which many cannot repay. In other words, the coupling of high expectations (every student has a right to attend college) with abysmal performance is ruining thousands of lives. Continue reading

Job Growth Expected for Middle-Skill Occupations

True, employers are putting an increasing emphasis on technical skills. But 58% of all Virginia jobs in 2016 were classified as “middle-skill,” which usually can be supplied by community colleges and career schools, and the percentage still will be 58% by 2026, according to Virginia Employment Commission forecasts cited by the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia.

As total employment increases, the number of middle-skill jobs will increase by 200,000 in Virginia, reports Spencer Shanholtz in the StatChat blog. The percentage of low-skill jobs will decrease from 4% to 3% over that 10-year period, while the percentage of high-skill jobs will increase from 33% to 35%.

Exploring the public-policy implications, Shanholtz writes: “It would be sensible to increase attention towards “Middle-skill” pathways, which can provide gainful employment and encourage further education and degree completion.” Continue reading

Thousands of Virginians Getting their Licenses Reinstated

Angela Battle: one of thousands of Virginians to have their license restored. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Some 37,700 Virginians who couldn’t drive yesterday can drive today, thanks to a budget amendment to Virginia’s Fiscal 2020 budget, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. More than 600,000 drivers have suspended licenses because a failure to pay court fines and costs, creating a Catch 22 situation for thousands: People can’t repay their fines if they can’t drive to work, and they can’t drive to work if they can’t repay their fines. The Department of Motor Vehicles will contact other Virginians with suspended licenses to inform them how to get their licenses back.

Randy Rollins, president of the Drive-to-Work nonprofit that helps people get their drivers licenses reinstated, has tried unsuccessfully for the past 10 years to get the law changed, but Governor Ralph Northam was able to enact the new policy, for a year at least, by means of a budget amendment. Continue reading

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