Editorial – Labor shortage must be addressed

Published 6:20 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2022

As another Labor Day approaches, it’s an appropriate time to note, and lament, perhaps the worst labor economy of our lifetimes.

The primary problem of more jobs than workers to fill them was unthinkable even a decade ago, when economists worried more about the opposite prospect – that technology would eliminate so many jobs that even those who wanted to work wouldn’t be able to do so.

Now, state officials say that Virginia employers can’t fill some 300,000 jobs.

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin, in a speech to several hundred business and civic leaders Thursday in Newport News, talked about the need to totally rethink Virginia’s approach to workforce development in response to two new realities: more people leaving the state than moving in, and record numbers of able adults choosing not to work.

The governor said he’ll have a plan ready when the General Assembly convenes again in January.

“We have got to get people to work,” Youngkin told the audience at Christopher Newport University. “That is one of the biggest challenges coming out of the pandemic.”

The state’s labor force participation rate has fallen to 64%, despite the aforementioned hundreds of thousands of unfilled jobs.

In addition to streamlining the estimated 800 programs currently involved in workforce development, Youngkin sees apprenticeships and internships as a key part of the solution. We agree – and commend Isle of Wight County Schools for being at the forefront of a needed resurgence of vocational and technical training. Recently retired Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton made vo-tech a priority during his tenure, and the local economy will be the beneficiary for many years to come.

Youngkin’s vision isn’t limited to preparing high schoolers to work with their hands. He emphasized the importance of training older adults for new careers, especially high-tech jobs for which prospective workers have the brains but not the skills.

Two announcements this week are models for cooperation among state and local governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations.

One is the Partnership for Petersburg community development campaign targeting the long-depressed southside city. The other is a $27 million expansion by Virginia Beach-based DroneUp for a drone operator training center housed at Richard Bland College in Dinwiddie. The program, which will include a new credential for drone operators, is expected to create 655 jobs.

The current labor economy won’t be fixed overnight, but Youngkin and others are pressing the right buttons for a long-term correction.