McAuliffe unveils workforce development and education plan to beef up economy


Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday announced a sweeping plan to better train workers for skilled jobs and speed the employment of military veterans, a policy that Republican leaders — in a rare show of bipartisanship — said they could agree on.

The “New Virginia Economy Workforce Initiative” is similar in scope to plans rolled out recently in Maryland and other states, said Andy Van Kleunen, executive director of the nonprofit National Skills Coalition. It focuses on “middle-skills jobs,” which require some training past high school but not necessarily a four-year degree, and are most in demand in Virginia and elsewhere.

“It’s a smart way to target investments and skills, and it’s going to get more people to jobs more quickly,” Kleunen said. “The fact that he’s brought part attention to these middle-skills jobs, I think that’s going to pay off for Virginia down the road.”

McAuliffe (D), who likes to call himself the state’s “chief jobs creation officer,” set a goal of graduating 50,000 Virginians from training programs in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and health fields — known as STEM-H — by the time he leaves office at the end of 2017.

In contrast to former governor Robert F. McDonnell’s goal of awarding 100,000 associate and bachelor’s degrees over 15 years, McAuliffe said he wants workers to earn “credentials, licenses, apprenticeships and associate degrees” that translate directly to jobs.

McAuliffe unveiled the plan before an audience of community college educators, but did not provide details about who would fund the training or where it would take place. The proposal taps Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones and a list of existing state departments to devise strategies for implementing the policies and generate regular reports. Asked if the initiatives would have dedicated funding or staff, McAuliffe said he must first settle the state’s impending budget crisis.

“I want to crush the other 49 states on job creation,” he told the crowd at the Virginia Community College System Chancellor’s Retreat. “I can be the best salesman for our state and I think you all know I love being out there selling. But I need your help to sell Virginia’s high-quality product workforce . . . This is a defining moment for Virginia’s economy.”

The governor has spent much of his first year tangling with House Republicans over whether to expand Medicaid in Virginia through the Affordable Care Act — an option rejected by lawmakers who oppose any increased reliance on federal money.

On Wednesday, House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said that with regard to economic development, he shared the governor’s overall goals.

“We all recognize that creating good jobs and increasing opportunity for the people of Virginia is a bipartisan issue,” Howell said. “I agree with the governor that the Commonwealth cannot continue to rely on federal funds to drive our economy.”

McAuliffe said Virginia has lost billions due to cuts in U.S. Defense Department spending in the state. The state is facing a revenue shortfall of more than $1.5 billion over the next several years.

On Friday, McAuliffe will appear before a joint meeting of Senate and House Senate appropriation and finance committees, to unveil a new, downgraded revenue estimate. He noted that budget cuts are likely, but specifics have not been worked out yet.

“The economy of the past, where we could simply rely on the economic benefits of federal dollars, is over,” McAuliffe said. “We need to discard the mentality of entitlement and replace it with a mentality of enlightenment.”

Since taking office, McAuliffe has used his business and political network to attract investors to the state, including a deal for a paper plant in the Richmond suburbs that state officials called the largest ever between a Chinese investor and Virginia.

He said that as part of the new initiative, which was created by executive order, the state will develop an “online dashboard” to provide geographically specific data about what training programs, jobs and skills are needed, and what’s already available.

McAuliffe said there are currently 30,000 tech vacancies in Northern Virginia. There and in other more urban parts of the state, vacancies for highly skilled and high-tech workers take, on average, more than a month to fill. At the same time, hundreds of people might apply for each job that opens up in rural Virginia.

Turning to the state’s military population, McAuliffe promised to double the number of veterans hired through the state’s Virginia Values Veterans program, and said he will ask 10,000 businesses to sign pledges to hire veterans.

Finally, McAuliffe said Virginia must diversify its economy with support for small businesses, start-ups, entrepreneurs and patent production.

“We need to remember that our sense of urgency is driven by those Virginians who struggle each and every day just to get by, but who dream of giving their children the opportunities that they never had,” he said.

Jenna Portnoy covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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