If Virginia’s workforce is to respond to the ever-changing needs of business and industry and if employers are to provide thriving-wage jobs that allow individuals to advance in chosen career paths, there is work to do.
Though Virginia has slowly been regaining jobs lost to the COVID-19 pandemic and the unemployment rate for February (5.2%) is less than the national average (6.2%), it is still higher than what it was last year at this time (3.3%).
Local industries, ranging from health care to information technology, all require a qualified and skilled workforce to maintain and continuously modernize their service and product offerings. Without a top-notch talent pool prepared with relevant 21st century skills, businesses face the possibility of failing to remain competitive.
Reversing that trend will require expansive, collaborative efforts, like the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Blueprint for Getting Virginians Back to Work, which directly addresses this issue with an imperative to align educational opportunity to high-demand fields. An empowered workforce strengthens the commonwealth economy and is made up of individuals who have the relevant, modern tools to reach their full potential, developed through education to leverage talents into opportunity.
But there is an affordability gap to access that education. Last year, student submittals of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) dropped nationally by 8%. In Virginia, applications declined by 8.7%, and by an astounding 31% for students from Virginia’s low-income high schools. Those students are part of a critical segment of the state’s population – individuals who have not pursued higher education, and the jobs that could result, largely because they didn’t apply for or receive financial aid.