Posted on Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The following op-ed column appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Sunday, September 2, 2018. To see the published article, click here.

By Glenn DuBois and Barry DuVal

This Labor Day weekend, we honor the American worker, and specifically the Virginians who contribute to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our commonwealth. Our purpose here is to offer a glimpse into a growing and prosperous segment of Virginia’s workforce. We also aim to remind readers that when people earn more money, it’s usually a good thing for all of us.Since July 2016, thanks largely to the General Assembly’s decision to make targeted workforce training more affordable through a trailblazing, pay-for-performance grants program, Virginians have earned more than 11,000 valuable, industry-recognized workforce credentials.

The training has occurred through a Virginia Community College program called FastForward, which was designed to empower Virginians with the specific skills employers are seeking. These workforce training programs are geared toward the needs of local businesses and focus on in-demand credentials and degrees.

Maybe it should come as no surprise to learn that 98 percent of all the industry credentials earned through FastForward have been in Virginia’s top 12 occupations.

The training and credentials — ranging from welding certifications to teaching licenses to IT and medical qualifications — help open the door to jobs with higher pay and benefits.

Ed Breeden is trading in his job at a Winchester scrap metal yard for a new career in advanced manufacturing, thanks to FastForward workforce training at his local community college.

Case in point: 48-year-old Ed Breeden, who has worked as a laborer in a Winchester scrap metal yard for 23 years. When his employer said the yard would shut down, Breeden knew he had to act. He enrolled at Lord Fairfax Community College to earn his GED, and that’s where Breeden learned about FastForward workforce training.

Breeden earned a manufacturing technology credential in just 12 weeks. And the new advanced manufacturing job he got as a result not only will increase his take-home pay by nearly 40 percent; Breeden also will get health insurance and paid vacation benefits he’s never had before for his family.

Breeden’s story is no exception. FastForward participants are older than traditional college students, with an average age of 36. Two-thirds of FastForward students have family dependents. Sixty-five percent of people in FastForward training programs are male, compared to 45 percent of students in higher education generally.

A survey of FastForward program graduates who earned industry credentials vividly reveals the value of this program for students as well as employers:

• Before FastForward training, program participants on average made less than $22,000 per year.
• The majority of FastForward graduates see a wage gain of 25 percent to 50 percent.
• Ninety percent of working FastForward graduates said they have employer-sponsored health care; 75 percent said they get paid sick leave; 85 percent said they receive paid vacation time.
Clearly, FastForward is working for the Virginians who participate, but it’s also working for employers and for the commonwealth. Before FastForward, one in five program participants was on some form of public assistance.

Based on an analysis of 2,500 available wage records from the Virginia Employment Commission, FastForward graduates earned more than $81 million last year. That’s an increase of $15 million compared to their earnings prior to FastForward.

Those 2,500 FastForward graduates paid more than $4 million in state income taxes last year.

Virginia relies heavily on individual income taxes for its general fund, ranking seventh in the nation among the states, according to the Tax Foundation.

When our citizens earn more, they can take better care of their families. They spend more money and make a bigger contribution to the economy. And workers who earn more money become productive taxpayers, thus supporting critical government services like education and public safety.

Last winter, Virginia lawmakers increased the grant funding that supports FastForward. That was great news, and we thank them.

Most importantly, there’s room to grow this program and help more of our fellow Virginians secure productive careers and better lives while ensuring that businesses have the talent they need to help them grow and prosper. Investing in Virginia’s workforce provides a return on investment that we can all be proud of.

This Labor Day weekend, we recognize Virginia workers and hope that more of them will have the opportunity to participate in training that provides them and their families a brighter future.

Glenn DuBois is chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges, and can be reached at gdubois@vccs.edu.

Barry DuVal is president and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and can be reached at b.duval@vachamber.com.

cbutterworth@vccs.edu'

Craig Butterworth

A native of Richmond, Craig Butterworth is an award-winning broadcast journalist and communications professional. He has worked as a spokesperson, staff writer and editor for a variety of non-profit and for-profit organizations throughout the Richmond area.

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