Vermont’s new Lieutenant Governor is holding a series of bi-weekly virtual forums on priority issues. The latest Seat at the Table discussion examined workforce development issues in the state.
The hour long virtual forum reviewed workforce initiatives occurring across Vermont and what investments are needed to improve or expand employment opportunities as the state recovers from the pandemic. Democratic Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray moderated the session on what’s being done to link residents with jobs. “So often there’s this myth, right, that there aren’t good paying jobs in Vermont. But what we know, we know very well, is that that is an absolute fallacy and it’s more about how to train the next generation.”
The J. Warren & Lois McClure Foundation has been tracking Vermont’s employment data. Executive Director Carolyn Weir explained how the pandemic has affected Vermont workers. “Last June Vermont ranked second in the nation for the percentage of jobs lost due to the pandemic. And even with more Vermonters coming back to work the pandemic continues to take a toll. Over 28,000 fewer Vermonters are working now as compared to pre-pandemic.”
Last year the foundation released a list of Vermont’s most promising jobs, which included referrals to hundreds of workforce training programs across the state. North Country Career Center Director Eileen Illuzi said funding to those programs, and perceptions, should be viewed as a whole and not the current individual silos. “It’s really important that we really identify the whole workforce education system and stop looking at just little parts.”
Lieutenant Governor Gray agreed. “If there’s an opportunity to look at the system and all the different tools in the workforce development toolkit here in Vermont we could be a lot stronger, better, more unified moving forward.”
Community College of Vermont President Joyce Judy says one constraint to workforce development is the cost of continuing education beyond high school. She noted a marked increase in their enrollment after implementing two initiatives that reduced student costs. “All of a sudden we saw an uptick. And when we went back and did a survey of these students we found that by far the vast majority of them said that the reason that hadn’t engaged in college before was because of costs. So as we think about some of the barriers to training and education so that Vermonters are prepared for the career work we have to think about the cost of college.”
Randolph Union High School Director of Career and Workforce Pathways Ken Cadow said workforce training must be considered during early education. “There’s too little hope of advancement in a career without solid literacy skills. So one thing is to really focus on our literacy and the other is right now so many of our teachers feel a lot of fidelity to our graduation standards. And really making those standards connect to the students and their sense of the future is more important than the fidelity to the standards themselves. It will open up an opportunity to expose our kids a whole lot more careers.”
Weir added it’s important to think outside the box to find ways to get people into workforce training. “We’re left with a sense of urgency for Vermont to continue inspiring hope about the range of promising jobs that do exist and the affordability of the education and training that leads to them. In some cases that might mean improving the ways we help Vermonters learn about existing jobs programs supports. In other cases that may require Vermont thinking differently about how college and career training is supported, structured, accessed.”