Frank Ruff: Looking at employment 17 years later

Published 11:33 am Friday, June 9, 2023

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Seventeen years ago, Delegates Kathy Byron and Clark Hogan and I, after extensive research, concluded that Virginia’s training and guidance for those seeking employment or training for better employment was a mess. Different agencies had developed multiple training programs with little coordination and mixed results.

We proposed one person who would have direct connection with the Governor. We proposed the bill to take place as then newly elected Governor Kaine was coming into office. The bill passed. However, Governor Kaine appointed an ill-suited political hack, therefore, nothing of value happened. The next three governors of both parties appointed good people, but they did not address the problem of conflicting programs.

Some Successes

We did alert more legislators to the needs of our employers and the mismatch with those who need jobs. Our legislation in 1996 did lead to some changes. The community college system developed better communication with local employers to better focus their training for the skills needed in their service area.

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Out of this research, several great programs were developed. With the assistance of the electric cooperatives, Southside Virginia Community College developed a line-workers training program. They certified the 500th line-worker this year.

To better visualize the problem, look at the welding program at the community colleges a decade ago, but holds true for similar professions that need skilled workers. In 2009, if someone lost their job as many businesses were shut down, workers sought new training. Our community colleges would explain that they could train them to be welders starting months later in September and they would complete two years later.

If one had a family and mortgage, they would either be broke two years later or they would drop out to take whatever job they could find. Additionally, however, after the two-year program, there was no assurance they could pass independent certification.

Delegate Byron and I developed the Fast Forward Program in which the state would pay two thirds of the training costs rather than the customary rate. This would only occur if the trainee took and passed certification. This gave the colleges an incentive to not only keep students in class but to give them remedial assistance for that portion of the certification testing they failed. Meanwhile, the community college would be required to train in a much shorter time frame. Instead of a two-year program, it was determined that instructors could teach longer days to better suit laid off workers. They could accomplish that training in months rather than years. Folks are now able to get back into the labor market, many with better incomes and benefits than before.

When Governor Youngkin was elected, he understood the issues and appointed a strong individual to fill the position of Secretary of Labor.  Secretary Slater is focused and determined to make our vision move forward to accomplish the goals for which we had hoped. 

This Year

The 2023 legislation that Byron and I offered is designed to better coordinate training programs and better evaluate their effectiveness. In the coming months, most workforce programs will be moved from their current secretariat. Those programs will now be overseen by the Secretary of Labor. Comparing programs will enable us to determine the best programs in which to invest. It doesn’t stop there. Additionally, data will be maintained on who were hired and who remained employed a year later.

Keeping this type of data can then determine the best programs to expand and which ones need improvement. Currently, $485 million dollars of state and federal taxes are going for programs with not enough oversight of what was actually happening. We can and must do better! By 2025, it is projected that half our workers will need re-skilling for the jobs that will be needed in the future. Likewise, our smaller employers are not currently able to find the skilled employees they need.

What we hope to accomplish besides better training outcomes is a reduction in administrative expense. Those dollars can then be used for more training.  It will also allow more dollars to be put up to match private dollars to expand our apprenticeship program. 

Last Thursday, Delegate Byron and I joined the governor for a formal signing of the updated legislation. Many believe this was the one most impactful bill that passed in the 2023 session.

Frank Ruff Jr. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at, (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.