13:21 PM

Agee and Fralin: A Key Moment to Invest in Affordable Talent Pathways


Nancy Howell Agee is president and chief executive officer of Carilion Clinic and vice chair of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council. She also chairs the Virginia Growth and Opportunity (GO Virginia) Board. Heywood Fralin, a longtime business leader in the Roanoke Valley, is past chairman of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and the Virginia Business Higher Education Council. He currently serves on the GO Virginia state board.

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Nothing opens the door to an opportunity like education. Lives are transformed by gaining the knowledge and skills needed to land a good job, launch a career, support a family, and give back to the community. 

This path paves the way to upward mobility for countless Americans and prosperity for our communities and country. But today, obstacles lie in that path that we need to work together to remove. 

Too many young people and adults invest heavily in education and training that is not well aligned with current and emerging job opportunities. Others struggle to afford postsecondary education at all. Many lack the cost and benefit information needed to make good decisions. 

Some of these problems trace back to our state’s past choices. Although our top-ranked higher education system is among Virginia’s chief competitive advantages, we shortchange it — and the students it serves — financially. For example, Tennessee invested $10,969 per student in 2020, and North Carolina spent $10,742 per student. In contrast, Virginia provided only $6,519 per student. 

The obstacles on the employer's side are formidable, too. 

A recent national survey of CEOs found that the lack of qualified workers is the biggest single impediment to business growth. This finding matches our experience here in the Roanoke Valley and around Virginia. 

Our state’s loss of talent after graduation is alarming. Recent studies show that the number of young Virginians leaving the Commonwealth for better jobs elsewhere has grown. 

One way to keep talented students here is to connect them with Virginia employers through internships before graduation. These practical experiences benefit students, preparing them for the workplace and helping them pay for college. But the Virginia Chamber of Commerce recently reported that while 70 percent of Virginia employers would like to hire interns, only about 10 percent do. 

The good news is these challenges represent opportunities, and business and education leaders in Virginia are working together to address them. 

Look at the “Growth4VA” proposals presented by the Virginia Business Higher Education Council (VBHEC), the “Blueprint Virginia 2030” workforce and education recommendations by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and the GO Virginia Foundation’s initiatives to address regional workforce needs. 

These organizations agree that Virginia’s strong revenue position creates a once-in-generations opportunity to invest in affordable talent pathways developed collaboratively by educators and employers. These pathways assist students in learning high-demand skills efficiently through internships and apprenticeships that lead to full-time jobs in Virginia. 

The new state budget proposed by outgoing Governor Northam addresses affordability. The General Assembly will determine the funding mix for student financial aid and operating support that relieves tuition pressures. We hope our legislators will maintain or increase the budget’s overall investment in affordability, whatever that mix. 

However, improving workforce performance and reducing worker shortages requires investments in affordability alongside talent development that aligns with the careers in highest demand. 

Here’s where incoming Governor Youngkin and the General Assembly can make their mark and make an enormous difference: 

First, let’s scale up internships regionally and statewide, so every Virginia student and every Virginia employer who wants to participate in a work-based learning experience has that opportunity. The foundation has for this win-win arrangement through the Virginia Talent and Opportunity Partnership (V-TOP). It’s a collaboration between the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), giving students and employers the tools they need to connect. This partnership was initiated by the General Assembly several years ago when it created the Innovative Internship Program at VBHEC’s urging. Business and higher education leaders across the Commonwealth strongly support the partnership. 

Second, let’s use our highly successful GO Virginia regional collaboration model to incentivize the development of industry-specific talent pathways in every part of Virginia. When employers and educators in an industry sector or cluster come together to align instruction with workforce needs, incorporate work-based learning, and provide first-job opportunities for students, everyone benefits. Virginia can and should be the national leader in encouraging talent pathways development. 

Finally, let’s make targeted investments in educational programs that address our most serious workforce shortages. The Tech Talent Investment Program’s success in concert with Amazon’s significant Virginia investment shows how our higher education institutions creatively respond when a specific degree or credential target is identified, and funds are set aside. We should use this successful model to help meet other high-demand workforce needs. This strategy is crucial to health care, which will continue to experience severe workforce shortages unless we take creative and decisive action now. Virginia can be the Top State for Talent if we invest strategically in business-education partnerships that create affordable talent pathways for all Virginians. It’s the most effective way to meet our workforce needs, grow our economy, and create better job opportunities in every part of our dynamic and diverse Commonwealth.