Taking on Workforce Development — Again

Regional Center for Workforce Education and Training, Woodbridge Campus, Northern Virginia Community College,

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Richmond Times-Dispatch (RTD) reports that Governor Glenn Youngkin plans to present a major restructuring of Virginia’s workforce development efforts to the 2023 General Assembly. I commend the Governor for taking this issue on. It is the sort of “good government” initiative that needs to be done, but requires a lot of work for which there is little political payback, even if it is successful.

“Workforce development” is a broad term. From one perspective, one of the primary functions of all the public education programs supported by the state from kindergarten through graduate school is to provide Virginians the skills and knowledge they will need to enter the workforce. However, in the context being discussed in this article, the term refers to smaller, specifically targeted programs.

These programs are spread throughout state government in a myriad of agencies. The RTD article describes it as spanning “12 state agencies and 20 outside groups and some 800 programs.” The existence of local workforce investment boards and the availability of federal funding adds to the complexity. Another complicating factor is the activity of some state agencies in this area that is likely not included in the traditional list of workforce development programs.

Three examples illustrate the variety and specialization of these programs. The Department of Corrections has numerous training and education programs in which inmates acquire skills and earn official certificates they can use to obtain jobs when they are released. The following areas are just a sample of the programs available: plumbing, electrical, operating high-tech farm machinery, and commercial vehicle operation. Another agency, the Department of Veterans Services, has several programs designed to help veterans make the transition into the civilian workforce. Perhaps the workforce program with the highest profile is the Tech Talent Initiative. This program is the Commonwealth’s commitment to Amazon, as part of the deal to locate the company’s second headquarters in Virginia, to increase the number of computer science-related degrees awarded in 2039 by at least 25,000 more than were awarded in 2018.

This is not new ground that the Youngkin team will be plowing. Over the years, there have been several studies of the Commonwealth’s workforce development activities and efforts to coordinate them. Almost 30 years ago, the Department of Education issued a report entitled, “Study of Preparing a Skilled Workforce for the 21st Century.” As the report pointed out, “Recommendations of the study focus on coordinating statewide workforce preparation efforts.” Ten years later, in 2003, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) issued its first report on workforce development programs. Included in its recommendations was “consolidating workforce training programs under a new State Agency.” (By the way, Governor Youngkin has indicated this is his ultimate goal.) Following up on the JLARC study, the 2005 General Assembly established a joint subcommittee “to study the need for greater consolidation or coordination of the workforce development and training activities in the Commonwealth.” The recommendations in the joint subcommittee’s report were modest.

There has long been a board established by state law to advise the governor on workforce development issues.  In the first part of this century, it was the Virginia Workforce Council. Two examples of its annual report are here and here. In 2014, the General Assembly enacted legislation that abolished the Workforce Council and, in its stead, established the position of Chief Workforce Development Advisor and the Virginia Board of Workforce Development. The legislation defined the purpose of the Board as follows:

The purpose of the Board shall be to assist and advise the Governor, the General Assembly, and the Chief Workforce Development Advisor in meeting workforce training needs in the Commonwealth through recommendation of policies and strategies to increase coordination and thus efficiencies of operation between all education and workforce programs with responsibilities and resources for occupational training.

JLARC released its second report on workforce development late in 2014. It adopted a different position from its earlier report in 2003. It noted that the “decentralized nature of major workforce development programs underscores the importance of coordination.” Among its several principal findings was the “Board of Workforce Development is not equipped to establish a system of workforce development programs.” However, rather than recommending the consolidation of all state workforce development programs under a single state agency, JLARC recommended providing the Board of Workforce Development more authority and resources, including a full-time director, staff, and a budget, to enable it to implement its oversight and coordinating role. One example of the authority the Board should have would be “responsibility for creating the workforce policies of individual state agencies.”

The Board of Workforce Development exists today. Its website is here. Rather than being strengthened as JLARC recommended, it has been weakened. Originally, it was authorized by statute to have a full-time director. That position was never funded and 2020 legislation repealed that authority. Staff support is currently provided by staff periodically “borrowed” from other agencies.

Under Governor Ralph Northam, the Chief Workforce Development Advisor was elevated to Cabinet status. Legislation enacted by the 2021 General Assembly created the position of Secretary of Labor and eliminated the position of Chief Workforce Development Advisor.

Presumably, Bryan Slater, Secretary of Labor, and George Taratsas, Workforce Development Director in the office of the Secretary of Labor, will be the ones heading up the development of the Governor’s proposal to restructure the Commonwealth’s workforce development activity.  I wish them Godspeed.

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42 responses to “Taking on Workforce Development — Again”

  1. People have been talking about consolidating — or at least rationalizing — Virginia’s workforce training programs for years. Nothing substantive ever seems to happen. I suspect effective consolidation is made impossible by the fact that each program has its own legislation — often enacted at the federal level — and independent sources of funding. I hope Youngkin can cut the Gordian Knot. I’m not optimistic, but it’s important enough to warrant giving it another try.

  2. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    Once again, if those associated with these programs were truly concerned about their students and prospective students, why don’t they propose on their own how to organize more efficiently? More students for the same price or the same number of students for less money.

    Often while driving or walking around Tysons or McLean’s business district, during construction, I see a plurality of license plates from Maryland. Why aren’t more Virginians getting good and skilled construction jobs? Do the Descendants of the Confederacy look down on blue collar workers? I know the self-centered, well-educated parents of NoVA do.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Actually most of the kids of college-educated folks in NOVa will have a “plan” for going forward with life.

      It’s the kids whose health care if Medicaid, who grow up thinking that when they become an adult, they’ll just “continue” with their Medicaid “insurance”.

    2. James McCarthy Avatar
      James McCarthy

      It may be that the out of state vehicles belong to day laborers or even labor coyotes.

    3. DJRippert Avatar

      Lots of Maryland license plates heading west on R 7 in the morning toward LoudounOne. I get the impression that Northern Virginia has priced itself out 0f the market for working class and middle class people’s residences.

      1. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

        I worked for Richmarr Construction Company (Springfield) in 65 and 66. We were building homes off of Braddock, Rolling, and Keene Mill Roads. One of the giant subdivisions was called “Kings Park.” I remember that quite a few of the laborers (“LAY-barrs”) commuted from West Virginia. Martinsburg, if I recall.

        1. how_it_works Avatar

          I have no idea who built the garbage house that my dad bought in 1988 when we moved here, but I am sure that they thought they were building a barn.

      2. how_it_works Avatar

        Prince William County is continuing to serve in it’s role as the affordable housing leader for Northern Virginia, even if it does mean that a house fire displaces 14 residents:


    4. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      A lot of folks working at NNSB&DD are North Carolinians. Guessing a lot employed southside too.

    5. how_it_works Avatar

      Virginia is in deep, deep trouble when there’s nobody who can repair or install the air conditioners that make living here (somewhat) tolerable…

  3. Virginia Gentleman Avatar
    Virginia Gentleman

    I commend GY for this initiative. If he makes this a priority, it could be a great speaking point for whatever he wants to do next. Workforce development is severely broken in Virginia. It shouldn’t be that hard to fix even with all the various agencies and power struggles that will likely need to be tackled.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      I remember working on and writing about this issue when I was GOP Caucus Director, which would mean pre-1992…Organizing this chaos has eluded Virginia a long time, through many administrations. The head of the shipyard’s Apprentice School retired and went to work for Bob McDonnell as his workforce “czar” and beat his head on this wall for a while. If Youngkin makes progress, indeed, that would be fine.

      1. YellowstoneBound1948 Avatar

        Mr. Haner, were you in the W and M College Republicans in the late 60s?

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Without doubt. Certainly not SDS.

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        I share your skepticism. Maybe unions?

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    This is the ying and yang of government, not just for workforce but for any/all programs that span several agencies. Do you create one agency (like VITA) that serves all the other agencies missions or do you let each agency do it?

    Either path has it’s issues and it’s not just government – any large corporation will have similar challenges.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      That is not quite the case with VITA. There is a division of labor. VITA is responsible for services that affect all agencies, i.e. e-mail and phones. Agencies also have to use VITA to run their programs and store data–first on VITA servers and in the cloud. However, agencies are responsible for developing those programs specific to them. For example, DPB, working with the vendor, developed the budget development system in use. A VITA manager helped to coordinate the logistics.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Yes, that division of labor is, in my mind, a good model. VITA does the backbone and the agencies build off of that.

        why can’t workforce development work that way?

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    I read the article but this jumped out at me:

    “NEWPORT NEWS — Two obscure economic stats — the number of Virginians leaving the state and the number choosing not to work — are what Gov. Glenn Youngkin watches most closely these days.

    “We have got to get people to work,” Youngkin said. “That is one of the biggest challenges coming out of the pandemic.”

    With Virginia seeing more people leaving than moving here, and a labor force participation rate falling to 64%, Youngkin said he’s working on a major restructuring of Virginia’s workforce development effort.”

    The unemployment rate in Virginia is 2.7%.

    So this is really about folks who “choose not to work”?

    So I wonder what kind of “workforce training” is needed to motivate folks to work that , for various reasons, have chosen not to work?

    Is this REALLY a workforce training issue?

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Depends on the definition of “workforce” and “unemployed”, I guess. I seem to recall that the unemployed doesn’t include the chronically unemployed, i.e., those who stop seeking employment.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Really not clear to me what problem Youngkin is actually trying to solve.

        I can be convinced that the current existing “workforce development” is an administrative rats nest of sorts (like many that have remained unchanged over time) but we have uber lower unemployment (2.7%) and somehow Youngkin has tied or tried to associate the labor participation rate and outmigration with ” the 300,000 jobs that Virginia employers can’t fill.”

        ” With Virginia seeing more people leaving than moving here, and a labor force participation rate falling to 64%, Youngkin said he’s working on a major restructuring of Virginia’s workforce development effort.”

        Really vague and unclear what the goal/mission of the reorganization actually is or will achieve.

        And once again, he asserts a problem, proffers a solution but never gives numbers that he is trying to achieve and/or comparing/contrasting it with other states.

        Like his complaint about the “honesty gap” in K-12 education – he’s all about the problem and nothing about the solutions. He’s basically handwaving IMHO. There are no specifics, no timeline, no goals – just hand waving.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Youngkin is a man out of his depth.

          The 2.7% doesn’t include the red box. If there were 100 people in the blue(97) and yellow(3) boxes, the unemployment rate would be 3%. It would be 3% if the red box were empty or contained 5 million people.

          “What’s in the (red) box?”

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            August 19, 2022 “Virginia’s July Unemployment Rate Declined 0.1 Percentage Point in July to 2.7 Percent; Labor Force Participation Rate Decreased to 63.8% and Employed Virginians Rose 5,865
            RICHMOND— Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined 0.1 percentage point in July to 2.7 percent, which is 1.1 percentage points below the rate from a year ago. According to household survey data in July, the labor force decreased by 1,015 to 4,354,174, as the number of unemployed residents decreased by 6,880 to 116,040. The number of employed residents rose by 5,865 to 4,238,134.”

            so the number of folks who are in the labor force but not participating is: ?

            And of that number, the demographics with respect to age, education level, etc, is ???

            Who and what is Youngkin targeting with his “reform”?

            These are simple questions that would greatly clarify his initiative… win folks over, even skeptics like me… if I thought this was more than political stunt.

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Aye, there’s the rub. Nobody wants to give all of the numbers, just a mix of rates and partial numbers. That way, you can paint an ulgy or pretty picture.

            No doubt that the real problem is just the red box.

          3. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            “Workforce Development” is adding another box in the diagram. Make it purple. And, now connect it to the red box and the green box with arrows. The objective is to take people from the red box (and those in the yellow box in danger of entering the red box) and putting them in the green box.

            The irony is that people entering the purple box from the red, may wind up, not in the blue box, but the yellow, thus actually increasing the unemployment rate from 3% to 5, 6, maybe even 7%.

            Imagine that! Increasing unemployment may be a sign of a successful workforce development project.

          4. You can be sure that those in the red box are making enough $ somehow, legally or illegally, to live. Motivating them to move to the workplace could be the hardest and most politically divisive challenge; I imagine many sacred cows will be slaughtered in any attempt.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    GY has neglected to tell us why he thinks Virginia’s labor participation rate is a problem that points out a need to restructure our workforce development approach.

    We don’t seem that much different from many other states




    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      You ask good questions, Larry. I hope you noticed that I did not focus on the statistics that Youngkin purportedly focusses on. For me, there are problems with the state’s
      workforce development programs, as documented in the latest JLARC report. Those problems deserve to be addressed. How the Youngkin administration does so remains to be seen. Regardless of the motivation, he deserves credit for the effort.

      As for the motivations, based on the article, the governor
      may be focusing on the wrong numbers. He seems to be mostly concerned about the labor force participation rate. “We have got to get people to work,” Youngkin
      said. “That is one of the biggest challenges coming out of the pandemic.” The labor force participation rate is 64
      percent. That sounds bad, until one realizes that the peak participation rate was 67.3 percent in 2000. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
      (BLS), “The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and older that is working or actively
      looking for work.” As BLS makes clear, the number of retirements can affect the participation rate. https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2016/article/pdf/labor-force-participation-what-has-happened-since-the-peak.pdf#:~:text=%EE%80%80Bureau%20of%20Labor%20Statistics%EE%80%81.%20%EE%80%80Labor%20force%20participation%EE%80%81%3A%20what,market%20measure%20because%20it%20represents%20the%20relative%20amount

      As the Federal Reserve has reported, the number of
      retirements accelerated during the pandemic.
      https://www.stlouisfed.org/timely-topics/retirements-increased-during-pandemic This development has driven the participation rate lower. Probably nothing that Youngkin does to reform the workforce development progams is going to bring theseeople back to work. But, regardless of his motives, if the Youngkin succeeds in bring more rationality to the workforce development efforts of the Commonwealth, he will deserve credit.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        What would you see as the benefit to doing that? More efficient govt and/or meaningful good change in workforce outcomes?

      2. Randy Huffman Avatar
        Randy Huffman

        I think it is clear we are on the low end of historical averages, a few percent is in fact a big number. I can’t get this graph to copy the way Larry does, but if you hit Virginia, it shows the trend since the late 70’s.


        It bounced around 65 or lower at the low end till about the mid 80’s (and higher on the high end) but then jumped up and was as high as 72 in the mid 90’s. 67.5 was on the lower end of the range, till the plunge post COVID. While the point on retirements and aging population likely plays a role, a lot of older people still work, the days of retiring at 62 are out of reach for many on a sustained basis.

        The Fed has a good article about the calculations of the participation rates, etc linked below. They point out it dropped significantly for about ten years, but was starting to edge up when Trump was President (but still well below historical averages), see here


        It defines working age population as over 16, but not sure how retirees are handled. Is a 90 year old part of the working age population? My sense is there is a lot more at play for this drop then just retirements. I think we all are hoping the variety of Workforce Training programs will be successful in helping people develop skills.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Thanks for the link.

          Lots of questions here. What is the meat of the issue if a few percent are “huge”?

          I wonder how Virginia longer term trend would compare to other states. Similar?

          At any rate – what is the connection ?

          What are the demographics and what is the connection to workforce training?

          We can spend some time digging but the point is that Youngkin did not and is basically handwaving AFIK.

          so take a look at the data:




          looks like it’s a national trend:



          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            labor force participation rate for ages 25-54 – about 82%:


          2. Randy Huffman Avatar
            Randy Huffman

            Thanks for the data. I don’t know if Youngkin dug or not, just walked into this discussion, but did you notice in the BLS data the labor force participation grew from 2000 to 2020 (and 2030) for the older people, but shrunk for younger generation, what’s with that? I also don’t understand why 2030 data is generally static from 2020, right after everything plunged. Anyway, lots of questions as you say, time will tell.

            I hope some workforce initiatives help.

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            I saw that also and don’t know either and perhaps that’s what Youngkin is referring to but the participation rate for 25-54 is what 82-83% and look back to prior decades where it was 20-30 points less.. what happened there?

            I support education – continuing education, workforce education , across the board, the more the better. the more folks who can earn a living, be financially independent and not need entitlements – the better.

            And perhaps Youngkin actually does have a legitimate point – I’m just not seeing it yet and a little skeptical that he might be playing politics a little.

          4. Randy Huffman Avatar
            Randy Huffman

            I supported Youngkin in a big way during the election. Have not followed too much what he has been pushing in the last few months. But regardless, you and I can probably agree on one thing. Politicians (on both sides of the aisle) are always going to play politics, probably more than just a little…..

          5. LarrytheG Avatar

            It’s a given and I try to have balanced attitude about it.

            Youngkin is not a status-quo, “just guide the ship guy”. He ran on change and he’s got multiple pots cooking for change, good, bad or ugly depending on one’s own political leanings.

            And in the end, if Workforce Development is in need of reform (and many agree) then just doing that is worthwhile so tying it to these other things is “extra” and appears to be more politics than real but oh well – that is politics!

            Given the fact that he IS from the business world and IS a Conservative – I WOULD expect some of his reforms to actually be desired change with real outcomes, however, as a hedge fund guy – some trepidation that he’s not exactly a lover of govt to begin with!

            Nice talking with ya!

      3. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        “looking for work.” As BLS makes clear, the number of retirements can affect the participation rate. https://www.bls.gov/opub/ml…”

        Well, do away with Social Security and the freeloading Boomers will get back to work soon enough.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          I won’t say it’s disingenuous to use the 61% participation rate but it really does misrepresent the core of the issue which in my mind is those in the 24-55 age and that rate is over 80%.

          So sure, we want more of that 20% to “work” as well as some before age 24 and after 55 but there needs to be some ideas that are specific to those demographic groups and their characteristics.

          And these different demographics are partly why we have different agencies with different parts of the elephant – they specialize in those particular areas.

          So I’d like to see the percentages broken down by demographics and compared to other states to see where perhaps Virginia does have demographic areas that need more attention.

          This blog post is more like BR used to operate a few years back – Mostly Va-specific issues that were often non-partisan , and certainly not culture war and the name calling and personal animosities.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Of course a large chunk of that 20% have full time jobs running a household, either because they cannot economically afford to work, e.g., childcare costs v. income, or because they could but believe the family is better served at home.

            Question: is a mother homeschooling her children considered to be “in the workforce”?

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            That’s a really good question. And if you included them, how much would be added to the 80% participation rate?

            What is the ACTUAL workforce participation rate and is this much ado about not much?

            ” Labor Force Participation Rate
            In addition, students, retirees, the disabled, homemakers, and the voluntarily idle are not counted in the labor force. The labor force as the percentage of the total population over the minimum working age is called labor force participation rate.”

            what percent is the “voluntarily idle”? Is it 2%?

            also, people that are retired and do volunteer work – are they considered part of the “workforce”?

            ” BLS defines volunteers as follows: “Volunteers are defined as persons who did unpaid work (except for expenses) through or for an organization.”26 Thus, BLS recognizes volunteering as a type of work, but it does not include volunteers as part of the labor force.”

            so how much of this is the standard conservative canard that there are folks “out there” who should be working but instead are malingering?

  7. Are there any examples of states where workforce development has been successful enough to be a model? If not, what does that tell us?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      That’s a really good question and an important one if we’re talking about something that is a Virginia-specific problem or one that is common to most states.

      A Virginia-specific problem would be informed by other states that don’t have it, i.e. what different things do they do?

      A problem that is common across many states put Youngkin into much tougher territory.

      If he actually accomplishes something, other states will see Virginia as a model and leader.

      But to this point, I’m not sure exactly what part of the elephant Youngkin is talking about.

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