Businesses need more sevens
Published 9:22 am Wednesday, May 6, 2015
When Virginia Community College System Chancellor Glenn DuBois bought a home in Deltaville, he had a wonderful waterside pier. The problem is that it had no electricity.
After three days of searching, he was able to find an electrician who would come over. The electrician made DuBois wait, and then spent most of the day on the installation. At the end of the day, he could flip a switch and have electricity on his pier.
“Then he handed me a bill for $3,000,” DuBois said. “I told him, ‘I don’t even pay my lawyer that much!’
“He said, ‘I know, that’s why I quit my law practice to become an electrician.’”
With a laugh, DuBois said he made up the last part. But he did add that it was tough to find an electrician, there was a long wait and the bill was more than $3,000 for a little under a day’s work.
This illustrates the trouble Virginia businesses are in — finding people to work the skilled technician jobs. It’s what DuBois called the 1-2-7 problem.
“Imagine you are the owner of an advanced manufacturing firm, and you have to hire one engineer,” he said. “I have yet to talk to a company that can’t find that engineer. That engineer then needs to be supported by two people with an undergrad degree, like human resources, information technology, accounting and on and on.
“We can find them, too, but what about that seven?”
Businesses can find the one person with an advanced degree they need, and also the two people with an undergraduate degree for every advanced degree.
Then comes the seven needed to support the two with bachelor’s degrees. The seven may only need a high school diploma or equivalent, but some might require a certification or associates degree, such as a welder, truck driver or an electrician.
“A certified electrician is the hardest job to fill in Northern Virginia and also the Eastern Shore,” DuBois said. “Workers with certifications are the number one thing employees are telling us that they need more of.
“Businesses are looking for talent. They are not looking for cheap labor, tax breaks or giveaways. They are looking for talent.”
Jim Strozier of Highground Services Inc. agreed with that assessment at the town hall the chancellor had in the Regional Workforce Development Center at Paul D. Camp Community College this past week.
“First hand, I can tell you that there is a real shortage of talent in this area,” he said, adding that most of his company’s work is to augment local industry. “We can’t find enough people to do it. In order for us to grow, we have to have more resources.”
Amanda Jarratt, president and CEO of Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc., said she hears much of the same from local businesses. Electricians, mechanics and those with an industrial skillset certification are needed in the area. Another area is truck driving training.
The college does have a truck-driving certificate, but she said the area has enough local need to support more people driving freight trucks.
Jarratt also said the agricultural and forestry aspects of the economy are growing, and that should be an area where workforce development focuses as well.
“Paul D. Camp has generally been an all-star, and it is critical to strategically develop the workforce of tomorrow,” Jarratt said, but added there is more that could be done to support local industry. “We feel like we are exporting students to other community colleges to take advantage of programs. We are hoping they come, but they do not always.”
DuBois said that if, for example, they are going to New River Community College, it has an industrial maintenance program that can lead to a $75,000 job in the western part of the state, which is hard to pass up.
Hearing that Western Tidewater also can’t fill the sevens on the 1-2-7 spectrum, the chancellor returned to a piece of legislation being worked on to change the ways colleges are funded.
“We need more of the seven, and yet the way our rules are resourced really focused on the one and the two,” DuBois said. “I think the legislature is on a pivot. I think they are starting to get it.”
Funding for non-credit certifications is up to $5 million today, but the problem is that it’s not enough, DuBois said. Nineteen states are outspending Virginia, including neighbors Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“They said they would put money in for these types of students,” he said. “They did, but now we’ve got a neighbor (North Carolina) putting $90 million into it.
“If this is in the best interest of your community, this region and your family, then please sign it,” DuBois asked business owners. “When I go back and give my report to the legislation, I want to reflect your voice.”