A top priority for Vermont Governor Phil Scott has been the state’s economy and affordability. The Republican says a key to attaining that goal is strengthening the state’s workforce. Wednesday, Scott highlighted an increase in Vermont's workforce and discussed initiatives intended to maintain the upward trend.
Standing outside the Vermont Labor Department offices in Montpelier Wednesday, Governor Scott noted that from April 2009 until he first took office in 2017 there were about 16,000 fewer workers in the state even though employers were seeking workers. The Republican highlighted his administration’s success in increasing the labor force across the state. “Since the beginning of this calendar year Vermont employers have in total added about 4,500 workers. This has increased the size of Vermont’s labor force to over 349,000 people, the highest it’s been since April of 2011. At the lowest point in October of 2016 Vermont’s labor force had contracted to about 330,000. Since the beginning of the year our labor force as a percentage of total population has also steadily climbed. This means Vermonters who are here but not working or unable to find steady employment are making their way back into the labor force.”
Vermont Department of Labor Deputy Commissioner Michael Harrington said the Scott administration has been crafting new approaches to workforce development. “Growing Vermont’s labor force is a highly complex arrangement where both economic development and community development converge and in some cases collide. In the end the focus had to change from a place based system where individuals and businesses come to us for services to a people based system where services are delivered to them.”
Vermont Chamber of Commerce President Betsy Bishop says as the labor market has tightened, a state-level focus on workforce development is needed. “Recruitment has become fierce. Retaining employees has become paramount and through that we’ve seen evolution in how employers are looking to retain and recruit employers. It’s really a new world of work that we’re seeing.”
Bishop noted that the Vermont Futures Project has also analyzed data calculating the workforce gap and how many workers are needed in the state annually. “When you take into consideration how many people are graduating from high school and college and going directly into the workforce and then you think about how many people are leaving the workforce through retirements or moving, natural attrition those types of things, the Futures Project has come up with a number of 11,000 workers annually is what Vermont needs to keep up with its current rate of growth which is about 2 percent. So the concept is that we have about 8,000 people who are coming into the supply but we need almost 19,000 workers a year. So that is the struggle ahead of us.”
Governor Scott called the labor increase an encouraging trend, but says the state’s work isn’t done. “Our challenge of course is going to be workers for the workforce. We can continue to grow the workforce but if we don’t have people to fill the jobs we’re not going to see that increase. And that’s why we have to focus on demographics. We have to bring more people into the state in order to continue that increase. Obviously some of this is done nationally the national economy is heating up. But our economy is heating up as well here in Vermont. So we see some growing trends here which are encouraging and we’ll continue to watch this as time moves forward.”
A series of efforts including marketing and incentives are underway by state agencies and private employers to recruit individuals from out of state and those who want to return to the workforce.