Here’s the challenge Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam heard from constituents during a recent roundtable with local business owners:
Employers are ready and willing to hire more workers into middle- and high-skill technical jobs, but there aren’t enough workers who have the right amount of post-high-school training to even begin the job-specific training.
“We have some great training institutions here, but the bottom line is they’re just too slow,” one Economic Development Authority consultant told the lieutenant governor at the small downtown gathering. “We end up in this crazy cycle of being way behind the employer’s needs.”
A big part of this problem is that workers with a high school diploma alone almost always need a lot of remedial workforce training before they can even get to the technical training and apprenticeships that employers need them to have before they can be hired full-time. One solution that workforce development officials in Lynchburg Virginia, are trying out is a three-month “boot camp” training process that will teach basic skills preceding an apprenticeship. Lynchburg is using funding from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to sponsor the program.
Here’s another solution that we hope more workforce development boards will consider in future years: Ensuring more students come out of traditional high schools and adult diploma programs with those “boot camp” skills.
Northam, after all, isn’t the only elected official hearing about this same conundrum from employers. The skills gap is a problem in every state in the nation — and in some states it’s downright epidemic. (There are those who deny the existence of the problem; they’re essentially alleging “a worldwide scheme by thousands of business managers,” the Harvard Business Review recently pointed out.)
There’s no question that a high school diploma is the essential first step to almost any modern job. As more communities come to understand that basic workforce training is an essential second step, dovetailing diploma attainment with such training simply makes sense.
And that, in fact, is exactly what the Association for Career & Technical Education has been saying for years — and not just because such programs create employees who are ready to hit the ground working. CTE programs have also been shown to improve academic motivation, school engagement, grades, self-efficacy and college aspirations.
That’s a true win-win. And the sooner more people can access such training, the better.