By Brent Addleman | The Center Square
Workforce development in key areas of the Vermont economy is the focus of a new bill that is headed to the Senate.
House Bill 703, if enacted, would use $41.9 million to establish several workforce development programs with the goal of increasing workforce participation rates, training and retaining nurses and mental health care workers, and focusing on providing training and apprentice programs to youth and adults.
The bill passed the House on Friday morning by a unanimous 139-0 vote, with 10 members absent, and has been transmitted to the Senate. The bill was introduced by Rep. Tristan Toleno, D-Brattleboro, and the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development.
The bill, according to the fiscal note, would appropriate $39.9 million in fiscal year 2023, and $1 million each in fiscal years 2024-25. Included is $18.9 million in general fund appropriations, $15 million in education fund appropriations, and $8 million in American Rescue Plan Act appropriations.
According to the bill, scholarships, and student loan repayments, in addition to networking, learning, and upskilling campaigns would be prioritized. Also featured in the bill would be early childhood educator recruitment and support for internship programs.
The bill would work to respond to the state’s workforce shortages, which have reached a critical level, and would prioritize health and safety.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott, speaking Jan. 5 during his State of the State address, said Vermont has lost 30,000 workers since 2011 and said the “pandemic didn’t create” workforce shortages but “has made it much, much worse.”
The governor, during the speech, pledged to work with the Legislature to “reverse workforce trends” and secure a future filled with “good jobs, good schools, and affordable housing.”
As part of the bill, $1 million would be allocated for the University of Vermont and Vermont State University to aid funding of the mental health nursing program, and $6 million would be allocated to Vermont State to double the capacity of the state university’s nursing program.
The bill would also provide $3 million to the University of Vermont to increase the school’s nursing program by 50%.
The Agency of Health Services would receive $2 million under the bill for project management, stakeholder participation, and implementation costs for the Health Care Workforce Development Strategic Plan, which would be exclusive of financial incentive programs.
The bill would work to provide $5 million to the Office of Engagement to administer and equitably distribute a statewide grant program that would allocate $5,000 per graduate for higher educational institution graduates who remain in the state to work.
Plus, $3 million under the bill would be used for $3,000 per individuals matching grants for internships and registered apprenticeships. Under the bill, the employer contribution to the grants must meet the state’s livable wage requirements.
The bill would also provide $300,000 to Vermont Technical College to develop a skilled meat cutter training and apprenticeship facility. In addition, $1.5 million would be appropriated to the Department of Corrections to expand capacity of the Community Justice Centers to support adults with low-level offenses in acquiring job training, upskilling, and record expungement in order to get them back into the workforce.