VCCS leadership drove home the point during last week’s Hire Education Conference that achieving the goals of the VCCS Strategic Plan, Opportunity 2027, is not only the “right thing to do,” it’s vital to meet the needs of our students and Virginia employers.
“Our labor market is short of workers,” said VCCS Vice-Chancellor for Academic and Workforce Programs Sharon Morrissey. In her remarks wrapping-up the three-day virtual Higher Education conference, Dr. Morrissey explained that the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated U.S. worker shortages that already were emerging because baby boomers are retiring.
“From February of 2020 to February of 2021 24 million women left the workforce,” said Morrissey. “Many worked in jobs that were impacted by the pandemic, such as retail and hospitality, others stayed home to care for children or oversee their children’s remote learning. Many have not come back to work. And in addition, as many as 2.6 million men have left the workforce, many of them people of color.”
Bottom line: helping students train for available jobs and helping employers find workers with the right skills means that nobody should be left behind. And that’s the goal of the VCCS Strategic Plan, which commits Virginia’s Community Colleges to “achieve equity in access, learning outcomes, and success for students from every race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic group.”
“We know from research that students need help navigating the complex enrollment processes at our colleges. And this is especially true for first generation students, students of color and students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Opportunity 2027 is an equity-focused strategic plan that gives us a chance to recalibrate our programs and services,” said Morrissey.
Over the last 20 years, the Hire Education Conference – the VCCS’ professional development gathering of workforce leaders and practitioners – has explored the ways in which our colleges respond to the needs of businesses and individuals in the Commonwealth, positioning Virginia as a national model for workforce training. As we emerge in a post-pandemic environment, with a heightened focus on the challenges and inequities prevalent in our systems and our communities, this year’s gathering refocused on a conversation about the future of work that was infused with the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“If you’re fighting for justice, if you’re pursuing equity, inclusion, and belonging in today’s society over these next 25 years, I’m arguing it’s going to be tough at times,” said Eddie Moore, Jr., a nationally known speaker D.E.I. speaker. Moore urged the conference attendees to be intentional in their approach to social justice, and to expect push-back at times. “There’s gonna be some bumps in the road.”
The challenge was echoed by another conference speaker, Dr. Robert Winn, director of the VCU Massey Cancer Center, who has spotlighted and campaigned against disparities in the nation’s medical care system. “It is high time that we find the courage and the imagination to be able to train this next generation to solve not only the problems of cancer, but understand that those problems of cancers are connected to the place and spaces in which they currently live,” said Dr. Winn. “If we really are going to have the biggest impact let’s start training the next generation to understand the intricacies between and the interplay between the zip code neighborhood association and their DNA as a person. That’s the big idea.”
If you weren’t able to attend this year’s Hire Ed Conference, you can still register and view the event.