Rep. Mike Yantachka

At the Champlain Valley School District (CVSD) budget presentation the evening before Town Meeting, board member Lynne Jaunich was describing the district’s intent to help students connect with employers through internships for skill development. Moe Harvey, who owns Patterson Fuels, stated that he had positions in his company, well-paying jobs with benefits, that he had a hard time filling because he could not find people with the skills or the willingness to learn. He was unaware of programs matching students with employers, which to me sounded like a communications problem between our educational system and our business communities.

Growing Vermont’s economy is a goal we can all agree on. It is a key to affordability, to maintaining a sustainable tax base and to keeping Vermont an attractive place to live and work. A skilled and productive workforce is critical for the economic vitality of Vermont, which has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. However, our state currently faces several key labor market challenges.

Employers throughout our state have been telling the Legislature that it is difficult to fill job openings due to the lack of qualified workers, even though there is a wide range of job openings across multiple sectors. At the same time many Vermonters are underemployed and require training to update their skills and find job opportunities that match their interests. A lack of skills presents a significant barrier to those who would like to improve their work situation but are not qualified for the available jobs.

Vermont’s educational system can play an important role in addressing this problem. While Vermont has an excellent high school graduation rate, we have the lowest rate in New England of youth accessing post-secondary education, including college and technical education. By focusing on aligning learning opportunities with workforce needs, we can maximize the potential of every Vermonter to participate in a robust labor market.

The Vermont House last week passed H.919, a workforce development bill, to do just that. It commits the state to a redesign of Vermont’s workforce development and training system through a concerted three-year effort, led by the Commissioner of Labor in collaboration with key administration partners, the education and training communities, and others from business and government. This system will allow all Vermonters who want to work and all employers who want workers to connect through education and training, allowing both business and individuals to thrive. It will seek to promote employer-driven workforce education and training opportunities and equitable access to employment and training opportunities for women and underrepresented populations in Vermont.

The bill will require the Agency of Education, in partnership with the Workforce Development Board, to set up a pilot program called Career Pathways. This program will promote collaboration among middle schools and regional technical education centers that, in partnership with business and industry, will integrate the academic and technical skills required for post-secondary success. The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

To bring this back to the local level, it was satisfying to hear that our small group discussion at the CVSD school budget presentation led to contacts between Patterson Fuels and CVU’s Nexus program, a flexible learning program that allows interested students to partner with business to apply academic learning to the world beyond school. These types of programs have the potential to benefit both employers and students and, hopefully, all of Vermont.

As always, I can be reached by phone at (802) 233-5238 or by email.