Reprinted with permission from the Virginian Review. This story appeared in the Saturday, Dec. 3, edition of the newspaper.
BY DARRELL GLEASON
CLIFTON FORGE — Virginia is revamping the way it views education in order to fill good-paying jobs.
That’s the message Elizabeth Creamer, advisor for workforce development to Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade, delivered to an audience in Clifton Forge Wednesday.
Creamer was the keynote speaker for an educational summit organized by The Alleghany Foundation. The summit focused on moving area schools from “good to great” and it included participation from local school divisions, the YMCA Early Learning Centers and Dabney S. Lancaster Community College.
A documentary, “Most Likely to Succeed,” was shown during the day of events at the Historic Masonic Theatre.
Creamer said Virginia, through its community colleges, is now offering workforce credentials programs that are accessible and affordable for people seeking the skills they need to obtain good-paying jobs in high-demand fields.
Last year, 175,000 skilled jobs were unfilled in Virginia, costing the state $1.5 billion in potential wages and 36.4 million hours of business productivity. Virginia’s General Fund lost more than $54.3 million in potential revenue.
The jobs, ranging from welders to computers network specialists, offer pay of around $28 per hour or $58,500 annually. According to research, the jobs went unfilled for an average period of 26 days, which is longer than the national average.
“To grow the new Virginia economy, 1.5 million jobs will need to be filled over the next decade,” Creamer said. “Fifty to 65 percent of these jobs will not require a traditional bachelor’s degree, but they will require some form of specialized training.”
Thirty-five percent of high school graduates in Virginia do not pursue a college degree.
The New Economy Workforce Industry Credentials Grant program covers 124 different community college training programs at Virginia’s community colleges geared toward providing workforce credentials at one-third of their former cost.
Community colleges consulted with businesses to develop a list of eligible credentials that can provide access to a wide variety of high-demand jobs, such as certified welder, electrician, medical records tech, computer network specialist, pharmacy tech, digital security specialist, emergency medical tech, industrial machinery mechanic, dental assistant and commercial truck driver.
Individuals earn the credentials in weeks and months, not semesters and years. The students are often quickly employed by businesses seeking their skills.
“It’s a very new way of looking at education,” Creamer said. “We’ve got to provide stepping stones to get people to the middle class and beyond.”
The workforce credentials program is also leading state officials to take a closer look at high school education.
As a result, the state is exploring ways to get students in high schools more engaged in their communities and involved in workforce training.
The state is also learning more about the importance of early-childhood education. Creamer said studies have shown that 90 percent of brain growth occurs in a child’s first five years. However, one in eight children lack the skills to succeed by the time they reach kindergarten.
Community colleges are now addressing early-childhood education through a $1 million endowment. Programs now provide training to individuals involved in early-childhood education, with a goal of improving early learning.
“We have a long way to go but much has been done,” Creamer said, while noting that Forbes magazine recently gave Virginia high rankings for its workforce quality.
Wednesday summit was a part of recommendations given to The Alleghany Foundation and local schools by a research team from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education.
The summit was scheduled to begin implementing the first recommendation — “building a community of support for continuous improvements in support of student learning.”
The summit focused on providing area students with the five “C’s” of education — critical thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration and civic and community engagement.