Don Turner: Commonsense reforms to bolster Vermont’s workforce

This commentary is by Don Turner, a former Republican state representative from Milton, former House minority leader, current Milton town manager and longtime member of the Milton Fire and Rescue departments. He was a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018.

Workforce woes aren’t new to Vermont — but COVID-19 has made them worse. And our low unemployment rate doesn’t tell the whole story. There are nearly 25,000 fewer Vermonters in the workforce then there were just before COVID-19 hit. The number of unemployed Vermonters hasn’t changed — it’s that thousands of employed Vermonters have left the labor market altogether, despite near record wage growth.

Meanwhile, there are 23,000 open jobs at Vermont businesses according to the U.S. Department of Labor. So, in other words, there are roughly as many open jobs at mom and pop stores, larger companies, farms, and every other type of business in Vermont as there are people who dropped out of the labor force.

Lou Varricchio/TNR

Don Turner

Something is drastically wrong with that picture.

In the wake of this crisis, Vermont has an opportunity to rebrand itself as a workforce destination. And while previous efforts to attract workers to our state with incentives are a great start, they don’t do enough to break down barriers to work for those Vermonters who have already left the workforce.

So, let’s give those Vermonters the tools to find meaningful work without the crushing hand of red tape getting in the way.

First, we should temporarily waive any and all occupational licensing fees for low income workers, young workers, veterans and service members (who relocate from state to state more frequently, requiring new licenses), those recovering from substance use disorder, those reentering the workforce after having been incarcerated, and those who were unemployed due to COVID-19. The last thing that the most vulnerable Vermonters need right now is more fees and surcharges to simply find a job.

Second, lets modernize our independent contractor laws to recognize the growth in independent contractors choosing to work from home. Now more than ever, remote work is becoming a lasting reality. But Vermont’s laws on the books make it harder to hire independent contractors who are far more likely to work from home. They’re also more likely to be disabled and cannot work in a traditional office environment. By simply cutting red tape, we can make it easier for these workers to match with Vermont businesses.

Third, we should make it easier for those who recently moved to Vermont by recognizing their work experience. Many occupations might not have been regulated by another state, but are regulated by Vermont. So, for example, a new Vermonter could have worked for 20 years in an occupation that their old state didn’t license–but because Vermont does license it they, now have to go through all the hoops and red tape as if they’ve never done the job before. We should recognize these new Vermonters’ work experience and give them a leg up.

Fourth, let’s recognize that not all folks learn the same way. Some are better at learning through books and studying, while others prefer hands-on learning. Right now, Vermont’s occupational licensing laws only accommodate the first path. By allowing Vermonters who have completed a registered apprenticeship program to count their effort towards the educational requirements for their field, we can help Vermonters who prefer to learn on the job.

Fifth, let’s actually take some meaningful steps to expand workforce housing. By cutting red tape in Act 250, easing other permitting processes, and expanding priority housing projects, we can—and must—increase the supply of workforce housing in Vermont.

Finally, Vermont needs to continue to accept new Americans and press the Biden Administration to allow more refugee resettlement in our state. Our rich history of Italians and French Canadians immigrating to communities like Barre and St. Albans has formed the fabric of the cultural diversity that defines our state, and is echoed by contemporary resettlements in cities like Winooski. These new, prospective members of our workforce and communities are invaluable.

We’re at a crossroads as to whether we’ll continue to bury our heads in the sand and treat our demographic and workforce trends as fate, or whether we’ll do something about it. Let’s recognize that this is an issue that impacts all Vermonters, and put aside party lines to take meaningful steps to address our workforce shortage.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Lou Varricchio/TNR

15 thoughts on “Don Turner: Commonsense reforms to bolster Vermont’s workforce

  1. Thank you Don Turner for this insightful commentary containing practical actions we might take to address the problem

    This past Saturday, a friend who is a plumber, stopped by for coffee and a visit. He grew up hardscrabble Vermont and though in his seventies is still one of the hardest workers I know. He mentioned that recently while going into a Hannaford, able bodied panhandlers approach him for money and, knowing how many employers are looking for people, told them, “Why don’t you just go out and get a job”.

    Like Don Turner, we noted how French Canadians and Italians came to Vemont for work. We also talked about how the Irish and Chinese immigrants helped build our transcontinental railroad and how America has been constantly re-invigorated by people from all over the world coming here seeking work and opportunity. These days those willing to work long hard hours are more likely to come from south of our border, or from nations where they are fleeing persecution.

    I believe in a zero tolerance illegal immigraton policy. However, we also need to have a guest worker program that can supplement our workforce when needed. Just across the border in Canada, dairy farmers are able to, through a well regulated system similar to what we have for fruit and vegetable farmers and hospitality sector, employ the needed help on their farms. Here in Vermont both the farmers and their employees are engaged in an illegal system that is harmful to our rule of law.

    We can and must do better for our state and for our nation. Allowing legal immigration, some refugee resettlement, and expanded guest worker programs may be time a tested way of providing the infusion of people willing and eager to do the hard jobs.

  2. Speaking of Education in Vermont:
    The Vermont Agency of Education just reported 2021 academic student assessments.

    46% 0f Vermont high school students fail to meet grade level standards in English Language Arts.
    58% 0f Vermont high school students fail to meet grade level standards in Science.
    70% 0f Vermont high school students fail to meet grade level standards in Math.

    The Agency cautions that ‘It is very difficult to interpret 2021 ELA, Math, and Science assessment results due to lower and uneven participation rates. Because estimated participation rates appear to be much lower than prior years, the accuracy of aggregate results is questionable.’

    Of course, there is no indication by the VT AOE whether or not more ‘even’ participation rates would improve or lower scores further. In the most recent pre-pandemic reports available, for example:

    In 2018 44.9% of high school students failed to meet grade level standards in English Language Arts.
    In 2017 66.6% high school students failed to meet grade level standards in Science.
    In 2018 65.1% high school students failed to meet grade level standards in Math.

    So, it appears that Vermont student academics are consistently subpar despite the pandemic and legislators should ask themselves if they see this as an incentive to move to Vermont. Not!

  3. New Americans? Allow more refugees? workforce housing? waive occupational licensing – you mean like medical, legal or business licensing? Seems Mr. Turner has flushed ethics and laws down the toilet in favor of the New World Order. Absolutely awful statement – any Vermonter feel represented by anyone, anywhere? It’s all about new arrivals – to Hell with anyone who has lived here and paid their own way for years – to Hell with you Vermonter. The entire establishment is corrupted and evil to the core!

  4. Yes, deregulate for in-business as well as remote employment. Many, if not most, of our regulations are frivolous attempts by legislators to appear relevant.

    But stay out of the substance abuse game. That should be left to each employer’s judgement of each applicant.

    Housing is a supply-demand issue – it will work itself out.

    And as long as prospective ‘new American’ employees are, indeed, legally in this country, fine. But accommodating illegal immigrants will only exacerbate the breakdown in our rule of law.

    But the primary incentives missing in this set of recommendations include School Choice and taxation.

    School Choice is a proven incentive for real estate development. Towns with School Choice create a draw for family investment, both in housing and business.

    And then there are taxes – need I say more. It’s a matter of being competitive. Vermont is in the top ten of highest taxed States according to yesterday’s report by the Tax Foundation. And it will get worse under the new Build Back Better framework. When prospective employees have a choice between VT and NH, for example, the incentives to work and live in NH are obvious. And it’s the reason people are moving to Florida too.

    Unless our legislators get their collective heads out of their rectums, political sloganeering aside, Vermont’s clear advantages, its beautiful countryside and centralized location to major urban areas (Boston, NYC, Hartford, Springfield, Albany and Montreal), will be more than offset by their continuing self-righteous political idiocy.

  5. Thank you Don Turner for this insightful commentary and practical suggestions.

    An old friend, who is a plumber, stopped by for coffee on Saturday. He grew up hardscrabble in rural Vermont and now in his seventies is still, with his considerable skills, helping people out. We got to talking about how some people were panhandling at the Hannaford while employers were begging for workers. Like Don Turner we talked about how it was those coming to America hungry for work and opportunity that helped made America great, whether they be the Irish and Chinese who built the trancontinental railfoad, or the French Canadian, Italian, Polish and Jew.

    These days, those willing to work long hard hours to make a better life often come from south of our border. We need both a zero toleration policy for illegal immigration combined with a well regulated program that allows those, who want to work and for which there are not the workers, to fill the jobs to come to this country, as we now have with our programs for workers in our fruit and vegetable farms. and hospitality industry.

    Canadian farms just across our northern Vermont border are able to employ dairy workers from Mexico and Central America all within a well regulated system that benefits both the employers and employees. We currently have the worst system possible where laws are broken by both parties. Surely we can better and it is in the interest of both the welfare of Vermont and our nation to do so.

  6. Hiring any Ilegal is a slap in the face of those that followed our laws and came he the correct
    way, illegals are they trustworthy , probably not, as laws mean nothing to them……

    If you need or want a worker, scrub the unemployment list, if you want a ” trusted ” worker hire
    a ” VET “, and don’t insult any applicant because they don’t have a college degree, just because
    you spent four years at ” party town ” doesn’t mean you learned anything that matters in the
    real world…………. Treat people right, train people right, you’ll have an employee life

  7. Is this foreshadowing of VTGOP to come?

    Paul Dame has his hands full if so, it’s going to take more than a Lets go Brandon party in Brandon Vt!

    He’s going to have to tighten the reins, get a choke caller for all the rinos in the party. It’s a big tent and inviting all the uniparty to the VERMONT GoP is why our state and country try is being subverted and sold out.

    We have to be smarter than snakes and more innocent than doves.

    Want to really show there is change, let us know this man and the one in office do not speak for the VTGOP. Better yet how about we clean house of a couple rinos on the party. Cancel some communist sympathisizers., just politely say, you can no longer put an R next to your name as you don’t represent Americans first.

    Keeping trouble makers the party shows where allegiances fall.

    I predict we will have more of the same in VERMONT, hope I’m proven wrong, there are 112,704 people looking for change, if they see it and send only $10, you’d have what $1.1 million in the coffers? The bank account will speak volumes.

    Let’s touch base in 60 days, see the bank account from small donors.

    • Oh I forgot they just sent a huge shipment of RINO food from Washington. All the rinos are busy stuffing their faces in the free money food trough from Washinton DC.

      Rino’s thrive on the nice square green leaves of the corruption tree. Don’t mind us, we are growing stronger and bigger, by selling our souls and your children don’t mind us, didn’t your daughter want to be a prostitute? Your son a drug dealer? Your nephew and niece porn stars?

      They say you can’t serve two masters, when you see rinos gorging themselves in the free money trough, don’t expect them to state the obvious. This is the classic, you can tell a tree by its fruit example.

      Oh please Uncle Joe, can you send us more illegal aliens???

      • Declare war against the uniparty.
        Take action like you mean it.
        Take more action so people know you’re serious.
        Watch support, money and people who love their country come to your aid.

        It’s a simple recipe, Patriots absolutely love the dish. Sells out every time its offered on the menu. The patriots are starving, throw them a bone.

        Platitudes, we are full of, thank you kindly. Action, no more talk, action.

  8. Old man Donald is missing a very key point.

    When Italians and French Canadians came here, they didn’t get massive subsidies from the government. It wasn’t “hey, here’s an interest-free car loan and a ton of rent assistance and an automatic job based solely on not being white regardless of competence”, it was more like “Hey, Giacomo and Jacques, get to work and learn the language while you’re at it”.

    Honestly, RINO Don can go irrigate an electrified fence with his urine. Maybe Don should educate himself on who’s committing most of the more egregious crimes PER CAPITA and costing the most in terms of education and social services PER CAPITA.

    The RINO party is a joke. And a bad one at that. Good god, Phil Scott being the face of it should tell you something. Maybe a new Sanity Party would be a good idea. Let’s face it: left/right and repub/dem was always the same coin with two faces very close to each other.

  9. I agree with Neil Johnson. We don’t need or want illegal border crossers in our work force. Don Turner is one of those Republicans who needs serious counseling. This is an example of what is wrong with the Vermont Republican party, namely too much going along to get along while the other party is actively trying to destroy the US.

  10. Allow more refugees? Why them when Vermont citizens can’t even get housing for themselves? Why do they get higher priority?

    If we want people from other countries, Poland, Hungary would be good choices.

    Why does everybody but the common man get 1st choice? Housing projects are just that, projects. they keep people poor. People who want independence don’t move to a state for rental housing assistance….people look for affordable housing, low crime and good schools.

    Vermont is expensive in schools and housing. Our crime is going in the wrong direction. We can do better.

    • Spot On Neil.
      I often read things like that and say “Just who creates these “Republicans” anyway- us or the Democrats?
      If this is what Republicans today are, then I guess there are a whole lot of us that are not one anymore.

  11. Can we take head of what Don Turner has just done here? He’s looked at a problem the community faces and inventoried where legislation and regulation obstructs citizens’ access to solving the problem.
    That’s a template we all should bring to bear. Where do laws and regulations intrude on our daily “pursuit of happiness”? That’s the arena of government “over reach” we’re asking our elected officials to examine. Represent us please. Repeal these intrusive efforts to govern us. .

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