Category Archives: Labor & workforce

Demolishing Oxfam’s Laughable Ranking

by Chris Saxman

Some things just have to be challenged at the outset before they gain traction and become an untrue reality.

Gaining traction among too many candidates for the General Assembly is a ranking, released by a British organization, Oxfam, that graded American states and the District of Columbia on best states for workers. This is the second year of their ranking. Here’s what their release stated:

In 2018, workers are not sharing in the bounty of our thriving economy—and the federal government is not going to make changes that matter. However, some states are taking steps to keep working families out of poverty, and to give them a decent chance. How does your state rank?

According to Oxfam’s rankings, Virginia ranks LAST out of the 50 states and DC.

A ranking of #51 out of 51, we believe, is worth challenging.

How are these rankings compiled? And what is Oxfam anyway? (Click the above link,) Continue reading

Virginia as New Jersey: Dem Support Grows to Repeal Right-to-Work

Right-to-work states.

by James A. Bacon

Democrats may or may not be poised to take control of the Virginia General Assembly. Steve Haner, who knows infinitely more about Virginia politics than I do, thinks Republicans have a shot at retaining their majorities. But from my untutored perspective, all signs point to a big Democratic win this fall. A return of state governance to the Democrats has very different implications today than it would have, say, 20 years ago. This is not the party of Jerry Baliles, Doug Wilder or even Mark Warner (back when he governed the state as a moderate). The Dems have moved far to the left and, as I opined recently, issues that were never issues before now are.

A case in point: A Virginia Chamber of Commerce survey of state lawmakers has found that a majority of Democratic lawmakers say they oppose the state’s right-to-work law.

Reports VPM:

Dozens of Democratic candidates skipped the question or did not respond to the Chamber’s annual survey. But a majority answered, and all but three candidates in the House of Delegates and four in the Senate said they did not support the law. Most of the candidates who made that pick were either incumbents in safe Democratic districts or challengers with no legislative record. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Cloudy Day Edition

Neo-Nazies on the loose. I’ve been highly critical of Attorney General Mark Herring for spinning state crime statistics to imply that there has been a surge in white supremacist hate crimes in Virginia. But that’s not to say there aren’t hateful white supremacists residing in the the state. The Daily Beast describes how an FBI crackdown on the so-called “Atomwaffen Division,” which it describes as a “homicidal neo-Nazi guerilla organization,” has netted criminal charges against two alleged members of the group’s Virginia cell. In June, the FBI arrested Brian Patricks Baynes, of Fairfax, on gun possession charges. And in September, the bureau arrested 21-year-old Andrew Jon Thomasberg, of McLean. The white-supremacist threat is real, and it must be taken seriously. But let’s not blow that threat out of proportion.

The Staunton Miracle. Rural Virginia may be in an economic funk, but Virginia’s smaller metros seem to be holding up pretty well. The Staunton/Waynesboro labor market has the lowest unemployment rate of any in the state — 2.5%, according to August 2019 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported by the News Leader. Next lowest: Charlottesville and Winchester at 2.6%, Harrisonburg at 2.7%, and Roanoke at 2.8%. Among major metros, Richmond is the lowest at 2.9%. We hear all the time — and I have perpetuated this narrative — that most of the jobs are going to the big metros. Is this true? We can’t tell from unemployment data alone. We also need to look at job creation, under-employment and workforce-participation rates. Regardless, it’s good to see that almost everyone who wants a job in small-metro Virginia seems to have one.

A voice for the voiceless. The Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, a former sponsor of this blog, is making progress toward building Virginia’s first coalition to address the affordability crisis in higher education. The Virginia College Affordability Policy Council met last week to discuss solutions to problems of affordability and workforce readiness. Co-chairs include James V. Koch, former president of Old Dominion University, and Brett A. Vassey, president of the Virginia Manufacturers Association. The group has recruited a wide range of businesses and trade associations as members. You can view Koch’s presentation here.

Why Are So Many Rural Virginians Stuck in Place?

Declining geographic mobility. Graph credit: McKinsey Global Institute

by James A. Bacon

A recurring question on this blog and elsewhere is why don’t more Americans (and rural Virginians) move to areas of greater economic opportunity? Why do they remain stuck in communities with high unemployment and low wages? Americans have always moved to economic opportunity in the past. What’s different now?

Those questions give rise to another set of questions. If people refuse to budge, should the rest of society take pity on them and subsidize their choice to stay put? As Don Rippert commented in a previous post, “The best thing the state can do is issue relocation vouchers to rural residents.”

The authors of a McKinsey Global Institute report, “The Future of Work in America,” tackles the geographic-mobility question. The biggest factor, they suggest, is the vast and growing gap in the cost of living between prospering cities and lagging communities. “Variations in the cost of living — and particularly in housing costs — are a clear contributing factor holding back geographic mobility in the United States. The cities offering the greatest job opportunity also happen to be expensive places to live.” Continue reading

Rapid Workforce Deployment: Selling Speed

Mike Grundmann will lead Virginia’s rapid workforce solutions program. Photo credit: Virginia Business

by James A. Bacon

When Stephen Moret was hired to run the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) two-and-a-half years ago, one of his main selling points was his accomplishment of creating Lousiana’s FastStart workforce solutions program and building it into the top-ranked workforce development program in the country. Now Moret is assembling a team to build what he calls a “world-class, turnkey, customized workforce recruitment and training incentive program” for Virginia.

Mike Grundmann, a veteran of Georgia’s highly regarded Quick Start program, has been hired as VEDP’s new senior vice president of workforce solutions. At Quick Start he oversaw development of more than 100 custom workforce solutions. By this time next year, Moret expects to have hired 12 full-time employees toward an eventual staff of 50, reports Virginia Business magazine.

Moret sees the workforce solutions program as a complement to Virginia’s community college system, which also collaborates with business to provide workforce training and credentials. The difference: “We’re also selling speed. Sometimes you’ll have a company say, ‘I’ve got a plant in Germany. I essentially want one just like that in the United States, and I want to have it up as quickly as possible.'” Continue reading

Rankings Spam

by Chris Saxman

There are a LOT of rankings and polls coming out these days. Some are credible, others less so.

Recently, a ranking was released by Oxfam that graded the states and the District of Columbia. This is the second year of their ranking. Here’s what their release stated:

In 2018, workers are not sharing in the bounty of our thriving economy—and the federal government is not going to make changes that matter. However, some states are taking steps to keep working families out of poverty, and to give them a decent chance. How does your state rank?

According to Oxfam’s rankings, Virginia ranks LAST out of the 50 states and DC.

#51 out of 51.

LAST? <cue gasp>

Wait. How are these rankings compiled? And what is Oxfam anyway? (Click the link above.) Continue reading

What?! Us Train Our People?!

Today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the lament of the Associated General Contractors of Virginia that its members are having a hard time finding qualified workers in the building trades, such as plumber, welders, and HVAC technicians. Almost half of the members said “one reason is that the employment pipeline in their communities for training skilled workers is poor.”

Their recommended solution: “increased funding for career and technical education for community and career college students to qualify for federal Pell grants.” Wow! These guys sound like the caricatures of Democrats often seen on Bacon’s Rebellion—more government spending.

What happened to the concept that companies did their own training with apprenticeship programs? Unions offer training and apprenticeship programs, but, of course, we don’t like unions in Virginia.

These contractors could learn a lot from the director of the Capital Construction Unit of the Department of Corrections. That unit consists of inmates who complete numerous construction projects within the prison system, such as roof repair and replacement, masonry work, and basic carpentry framing and dry wall installation. Their work results in significant savings for the Commonwealth.  The director of the unit told me that, in the past, he could usually get inmates with some experience in construction trades, but that is not the case now. Now, most of the inmates he selects have no background or training in construction to the point that some have probably never held a hammer in their hands. Therefore, he trains them.

In the same vein, I was astounded a few years ago when I learned that Southside Virginia Community College offered a course in utility pole climbing and line installation. C’mon Dominion, you can’t afford to train your line workers?

Oh, by the way, another recommendation of the AGC: Allow more immigrants to enter the country.

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