Posted on Thursday, January 12, 2017

Hovering at around four percent, Virginia’s unemployment rate is looking pretty good. While not everyone who wants a job can find one, today’s job search is far less strenuous than it was in the aftermath of the Great Recession when a staggering number of Americans were routinely filing for unemployment benefits.

Now, Virginia finds itself firmly in the grasp of a “new” economy, one that’s driven by technology. In many cases, the often monotonous work that men and women used to do on the assembly line is now being performed by machines. While these machines don’t require breaks nor health benefits, they do and will continue to require that human touch. But, the number of individuals qualified to program and keep them operational isn’t keeping up with demand. In some parts of the state, the same situation applies to healthcare and welding as well as other industries.

Take Franklin County, for example. This editorial in the Roanoke Times paints a clear picture of the existing skills gap. The demand for these so-called “middle-skills” jobs is climbing.

There’s no question the remedy requires a significant infusion of cash. But, the Virginia General Assembly is dealing with a substantial budget shortfall and tax dollars are relatively scarce.

So, what do you do when you find yourself between the proverbial rock and a hard place?

Virginia’s Community Colleges took a giant step in the right direction last fall. With help from the state legislature, we created the Workforce Credential Grant Program. This enabled students to enroll in courses that would provide them with industry-recognized credentials. In most cases, the credential could be earned in a matter of weeks or months and for a fraction of the cost.

It is expected that funding for the program will continue through fiscal 2017.

The solution to our state’s current economic challenges can be found, at least in part, in the training our community colleges provide. And, filling these job vacancies will go a long way in attracting even more new businesses to the commonwealth.'

Craig Butterworth

A native of Richmond, Craig Butterworth is an award-winning broadcast journalist and communications professional. He has worked as a spokesperson, staff writer and editor for a variety of non-profit and for-profit organizations throughout the Richmond area.

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