By Bill Moore
The Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce, like other groups and individuals, is very concerned about building a workforce that is responsive to employers’ needs. As a state with an older population, we are mindful that there is a significant problem in finding enough skilled workers to fill the employment needs of Vermont’s employers.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is currently 2.8 percent. We are at what economists refer to as “virtually zero unemployment.” While this sounds like a great thing — “everyone is working!” — it is not necessarily a positive.
The website Investopedia.com reports that, “‘Official’ unemployment refers to the number of civilian workers who are actively looking for work and not currently receiving wages.” The official rate does not include those who are no longer looking for work. Investopedia.com also points out that zero unemployment is not practical or desirable in an economy.
Investopedia.com tells us that, “Generally there is a relationship between inflation and unemployment — the lower the rate of unemployment, the higher the rate of inflation. While a variety of factors can alter the curve (including productivity gains), the essential take-away is that neither a zero-unemployment or zero-inflation scenario is viable on a long-term basis.”
How does all of this relate to Vermont?
The gap between those not working and the need to fill jobs in Vermont is expanding. At the current rate of economic activity, we need to fill nearly 11,000 jobs per year just to stay at our current levels. Filling that void is imperative, and we must begin now.
I was recently asked to serve on the Vermont Talent Pipeline Management program. It is an affiliate of the Vermont Business Roundtable. Its purpose is to “employ strategies that leverage lessons learned from supply-chain management and expand the role of employers as end-customers of education and workforce systems.” It is an innovative, national approach to filling employment gaps created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It is unique tool to use for workforce revitalization.
The Vermont Talent Pipeline is truly a public-private collaborative approach including the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Agency of Education, Department of Labor, regional economic development groups, private employers and others.
The Vermont Talent Pipeline has a unique focus and has identified several areas of need. There are three critical areas that need immediate attention: construction and construction management, manufacturing and manufacturing management, and health care.
Working with employers, Norwich University, Vermont Tech, Community College of Vermont and the Vermont Career and Technical Education Centers, the Vermont Talent Pipeline has identified cutting-edge strategies to address today and tomorrow’s workforce needs.
Employers provide the Vermont Talent Pipeline with descriptions of the critical skills needed to fill the jobs. The Vermont Talent Pipeline then works with educators to create programs to teach the type of vocational and technical skills necessary to perform the jobs.
A critical component of this is working closely with the Career Technical Education Centers. Students at the secondary school level become exposed to the high-skilled, high-paying jobs that are available through vocational and technical education. Management and supervisory training available at institutes of higher education solidify that career path.
Ensuring that potential employees have the type of technical skills necessary to match the workforce needs is vital if we are to fill the available job demand that exists today. We know that the demand is only going to get larger as workers like me get longer in the tooth.
The model identified by the Vermont Talent Pipeline is one resource that is working to improve opportunities for career advancement for students and older workers. It is an exciting project that I am proud to be a part of, one that holds great promise for the future.
Bill Moore is president and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.