When I was a teenager in Accomack County, the class I most enjoyed was a vocational skills course on small engine repair. The teacher, Mr. Hall, taught us how to disassemble and rebuild all types of machines, but his class taught me a lot more than how to put together a lawn mower. It taught me the satisfaction of examining a problem, finding a solution, and getting your hands dirty. It also taught me the dignity of work.
I didn’t grow up to become a mechanic — but some of my classmates did. And they’ve been able to build good, middle class lives for themselves and their families.
That’s why I’m proposing a new program, G3 — Get Skilled — Get a Job — Give Back, between our commonwealth, community college system, Virginia businesses, and motivated Virginians to build a workforce to fill the essential, well-paying jobs of today and tomorrow — the new collar jobs of the 21st century in cybersecurity, computer programming, clean energy, healthcare, and other high need areas.
Today, Virginia ranks fourth in the nation in percentage of population with an advanced degree and seventh in the nation in population with a college degree. That’s incredible, but here’s the thing: Not every job requires a college degree. And it’s that type of workforce that Virginia is lacking.
Demand for these new collar job skills is sky high: About half of all job openings in Virginia are projected to be new collar jobs requiring less than a four-year degree, especially in areas like cybersecurity, computer/IT, healthcare, early childhood education, and construction trades.
In 2014, more than 175,000 of these jobs opened up in Virginia. Each one of them, on average, took 26 days to fill, and were often filled by folks from other states. That gap stripped businesses of more than 36 million hours of productivity; families of more than $1 billion in wages; and Virginia’s General Fund of an estimated $54 million in additional state income taxes.
We have talented Virginians eager for good jobs and employers eager to fill well-paid positions with qualified workers. I’ve heard from too many business leaders that they are having to look outside of Virginia to find workers with the right skills sets. That’s unacceptable.
As governor, I’ll work to ensure that every Virginian who wants good-paying work has the skills to fill these new collar jobs. We’ll provide an opportunity for any Virginian, no matter where you live or what your background, to obtain a free associate degree or workforce credential that meets employer demands. By providing that free education as a supplement to a high school diploma or as part of a retraining opportunity, we’ll build a best-in-class workforce where Virginians of all ages are able to realize their full potential and contribute to our commonwealth’s economy, our quality of life, and our civil society.
Here’s how the G3 program will work: The state will fund last-dollar tuition and fees for any Virginian to pursue a workforce training credential or an associate degree in one of the targeted, new-collar job areas, from cybersecurity to early childhood education, construction trades to health care. The community college system will deliver that instruction, training and mentoring, and ensure that each student in the program obtains a degree or certification.
Each applicant will be assigned a mentor to make sure Virginians know where to go for the right credentialing. Those mentors will be a hand to guide them through the training and a counselor to help them find an in-demand job after graduation. They’ll help place Virginians in the right credentialing program, whether at a community college for a cyber security job or in a union apprenticeship for a skilled trade. This will help boost training completion rates and make the transition to the workforce easier.
And here’s the kicker — this isn’t a government handout. Upon completing the free associate degree or workforce credential, the student will commit to one year of public service with a variety of options — working for a local or state government entity, a non-profit organization or a startup or small business, or could go to work in an economically depressed area of the commonwealth where their new skills are needed.
It’s not so different from the skills I learned all those years ago in Mr. Hall’s small engine repair class. Virginians could use a hand up — and we’ve got a solution. Now it’s time to get our hands dirty and get thousands of Virginians back to work.