Vermont has a workforce problem. There aren’t enough skilled workers, the workforce is shrinking, there are not enough young people in the state, and the training that is available often doesn’t match the needs of the employers.
One group trying to address those issues is the Vermont Workforce Development Board (WDB). Designated under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, WDB is charged with advising the governor and the commissioner of labor on the development and implementation of a comprehensive education and training system. The board also is creating an inventory of existing workforce training programs to assure that the training activities are aligned with the needs of employers and workers.
“Since April 2009, Vermont has lost 15,000 people from its labor force. This stark decline represents one of the single greatest threats to our economy, as Vermont businesses continue to struggle to find workers to fill jobs that are available now,” said Dustin Degree, WDB executive director.
“Workforce development is a huge issue here in Rutland,” said Rutland Mayor David Allaire, a WDB board member. “The problem is there aren’t enough trained workers to meet the needs of the businesses in Rutland Country. It’s been a problem for several years.”
Allaire said there are basically two problems that need to be resolved: getting the correct training that matches what employers need, and finding enough Vermonters interested.
John Russell, president and owner of Russell Construction Services of Rutland and a WDB member, said one important task for the board is to figure out how the various programs throughout the state can work together.
“There are so many parties working on workforce development that my goal as a board member is to get the separate parties working together,” Russell said. His company, like most construction companies in Vermont, has had difficulty in recent years finding qualified workers. “Construction and other businesses are seeing an aging workforce, and new workers are not entering the industry as fast as the older workers are leaving,” he said.
According to Degree, WDB plans to host several regional meetings to get a better understanding of the needs of job seekers, employers and regional economies.
“The information gathered at these convenings will allow us to pursue policies and direct funding in ways that best serve individual Vermonters where they live, allowing us to better support local economies and Vermont’s rural heritage,” Degree said.
Part of the problem, according to a 2017 report from Vermont Department of Labor Commissioner Lindsay Kurrle to the Legislature, is the fact that the “workforce development system has become a complicated web of funding streams, programs, functions, and service delivery models.”
“While it is true that the workforce development system in Vermont is complex, I want to stress that complex does not equal ineffective,” Kurrle said. “In fact, I can proudly say that the Department of Labor, other state agencies, partners, and the State Workforce Development Board have been able to make incredible progress in breaking down silos, reducing duplication, and aligning the goals of our system as a whole.”
One example of success, Kurrle said, is what happened in 2017 when four state agencies and six private training programs began sharing the infrastructure costs of maintaining the One-Stop American Job Center in Burlington.
“This model of greater program integration, aligned service delivery, and streamlined employer outreach has also resulted in all of the partners participating in cross-program trainings, and there is now consistent and coordinated outreach at the state and local level, on a regular basis,” she said.
Windsor County Senator Alison Clarkson, a WDB member, said her main goal for WDB is that it become a force for innovation “that will bring regional awareness to the workforce development system and the opportunities which exist for Windsor County.”
“I hope we will better market the amazing options of adult education and training, apprenticeships and internships, and opportunities for at-risk populations. We need to build acceptance of alternative paths to rewarding careers,” Clarkson said.
“We have incredible career and technical education programs in Windsor County, and through the work of the board I believe we will be able to better integrate public education opportunities in high schools with career and technical education opportunities and pathways,” she said.
In 2018, WDB presented several key recommendations for legislative support including redesigning Vermont’s workforce development and training system to better represent the needs of both workers and employers; implementing job specific education, certification and training courses in priority sectors including construction, health sciences, advanced manufacturing, IT and tourism; and supporting the creation of registered apprenticeship programs, pre-apprenticeship programs, paid internships, job-specific training, industry-recognized certificates and trainings, with special emphasis on programs that lead directly to full-time employment.
In addition, WDB and the Vermont Department of Labor are working to establish universal workforce system performance measures that public and private stakeholders can look to in evaluating how well Vermont is meeting its labor force education, training and employment needs.
The 61 members of the board are appointed by the governor and represent all facets of the workforce-development system, including business and industry, labor, economic development, higher education, K-12 public education, and representatives from the General Assembly.