Laying a Foundation for a Better Workforce

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the 2014 president of The Council of State Governments, sees education as a key to developing a workforce for the jobs of tomorrow. But he believes states also can do other things to attract jobs.

What can states do to prepare their people for the jobs that they want to attract? 

“When preparing workers for the jobs of tomorrow, the foundation must be laid long before they enter the workforce. Nationwide, there is a shortage of workers with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math. In West Virginia, we are listening to those employers who tell us that we must increase the number of STEM workers. Emphasis on STEM in education will prepare our workforce for tomorrow’s jobs. It helps develop skilled workers and professionals for qualified employment opportunities.

“In West Virginia, our education system has stepped up to the task to provide employers with a solid, skilled workforce by developing real-world curriculum to meet the needs of new businesses. Not every job requires a traditional four-year degree, but increasingly, most jobs with good pay and benefits require at least an associate degree, certification or post-high school training. Schools are working with businesses to target middle school students about the earning potential of high-skilled, hands-on jobs. We’re helping companies investing in West Virginia grow by supporting future workers.

“This school year, all levels of education are collaborating along with businesses to ensure we have a capable workforce. Today, five career and technical education sites are implementing advanced career courses. By 2016, all 32 career and technical education sites in West Virginia will implement high-standard career technical programs. West Virginia’s Advanced Careers Program helps students pursue a technical career and receive the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. It also ensures employers will have the employees they need to do the high-level technical work necessary for so many of today’s jobs. These partnerships and the education reforms underway in West Virginia are vital to continued workforce development programs. Education and workforce development are essential when competing for economic development opportunities.”

Does funding continue to be a problem and how can state leaders ensure community colleges and workforce development agencies are adequately funding?

“The recession has impacted West Virginia’s ability to fund workforce development activities to fullest extent preferred. Yet with careful planning and prioritization of projects, this funding reduction has not been a major obstacle in addressing our workforce needs and implementing new workforce-related programs. If budget cuts to community colleges and workforce agencies are unavoidable, state leaders can propose fewer cuts to these institutions and agencies to demonstrate the importance of workforce development, as we did this year.”

While community colleges and universities have the immediate effect of assisting people to work in the present, many people look to K-12, and particularly early childhood education, as a key to ensuring an educated workforce in the future. How do you balance those long-term education needs with immediate needs?

“Addressing the need to have an educated workforce in the present as well as the future can be challenging. However, state leaders can take steps to begin this important conversation by encouraging the development of partnerships between public education, higher education and businesses. We have done this by bringing these key stakeholders together through the Workforce Planning Council.

“The West Virginia Board of Education and West Virginia Department of Education have long recognized the future quality of life for the citizens of West Virginia is directly linked to the performance of our students. Today’s students are tomorrow’s wage earners and taxpayers. As such, the state has focused a great deal of effort on reaching our youngest learners through nationally recognized pre-K programs and literacy programs.

“West Virginia has also focused on better aligning career technical education within the middle school and high school models. For example, West Virginia has strengthened its Simulated Workplace, Advanced Career, High Schools That Work and Technical Centers That Work initiatives. In addition, the state coordinates staff in cross-counseling efforts between public education and community colleges to ensure high school graduates are prepared for a career. This pilot program provides career awareness and career counseling services to middle school students through a collaborative, public and postsecondary education team. Every career center in the state is required to adopt or develop at least one career pathway that meets Southern Regional Education Board standards for Preparation for Tomorrow. In addition to the high academic expectations and rigorous coursework for all students, the (department of education) continues to create transitional courses for students preparing to enter into four-year college programs.”

Why is it important to have continued communication with all stakeholders involved in the effort to align education with job development efforts?

“State leaders cannot accomplish the alignment of education and training programs with the workforce and economic needs of their state through noncollaborative efforts. Stakeholders from both the private and public sectors must be involved in this process. State leaders alone cannot determine the knowledge and skills businesses need of the workforce to perform job duties effectively. Therefore, it is essential to establish and maintain these collaborative partnerships in order to adequately address the state’s workforce needs.

“In April 2013, we re-established the West Virginia Workforce Planning Council as the first step in developing a comprehensive plan to raise student achievement. The council combines the talents and expertise of multiple agencies, senior administration from the Office of the Governor, the Council for Community and Technical College Education, Higher Education Policy Commission, education and the arts, WorkForce West Virginia, West Virginia Development Office and the Department of Education. This is part of a workforce strategy to ensure an integrated approach in meeting the educational and training needs of West Virginia’s employers and students.

“For our children’s future and the future of our state’s economy, we must ensure our high school graduates are ready to either enter the workforce upon graduation or make a seamless transition into college or career technology programs. To meet these goals, we must align classroom learning with specific workplace needs; incorporate occupational training and life skills into the curriculum. Through this council we can meet the needs of businesses and industry today and tomorrow while ensuring our children are prepared to lead successful careers.”

Tennessee Sen. Mark Norris, as part of CSG’s Leaders’ Initiative, has highlighted other challenges people face in obtaining employment, such as child care, lack of a credential or even criminal records for nonviolent offenses. How can state leaders address these issues?

“The Council of State Governments has provided many states with technical assistance in addressing these issues. West Virginia found CSG’s help invaluable when dealing with a prison overcrowding issue. The CSG Justice Center acted as an invaluable resource leading our decision makers through an inclusive policymaking process. I encourage states to utilize their expertise in tackling these significant issues.”

Some states are re-evaluating economic development incentive programs to attract businesses. What do you think the impact of these incentives play in attracting companies and jobs to a state?

“West Virginia provides development assistance in the form of tax credits, financing programs and job training to qualified companies. West Virginia’s business incentives are performance-based, and credits apply to economic production after the fact. An effective incentive creates a benefit for the state as well as the qualified business. For example, an incentive may reduce a specific tax burden for a defined period with the requirement that the business create a certain number of jobs in a set time frame. Incentives are valuable tools, but not the most valuable. Businesses give more weight to factors such as a stable, predictable business climate; proximity to customers and suppliers; a qualified workforce; the availability of a suitable site; easy access transportation; and the vicinity and cost of materials. Incentives are a competitive element in the mix.”

West Virginia has made changes to its business tax structure and other changes considered more business friendly. What do you hope that will do in terms of economic development?

“West Virginia has worked diligently to produce a positive business climate for new and expanding companies that want to create good jobs in the state. For example, the state’s corporate net income tax rate was reduced to 6.5 percent on Jan. 1, 2014, a drop from 7 percent. According to the latest revenue figures for the 2013 fiscal year, corporations have realized $48.3 million in incremental tax reductions. The business franchise tax was reduced Jan. 1, 2014, from 0.2 percent to 0.1 percent, and will be eliminated by 2015. From the time the first reduction was made, until the eventual elimination, taxpayers will have saved an estimated $50 million. Our approach to responsible government is clearing the way for business growth through tax cuts, workers’ compensation reform, investment in university research and other strategic economic development initiatives. West Virginia’s strong financial performance and pro-growth reforms create the stable environment that businesses need to operate and expand.”

Are there downsides for the state budget when making such changes? How do you balance that lost revenue?

“The goal is to give up what hinders businesses from thriving as well as certain tax burdens, and thereby generate more revenues through economic growth. It can be a complicated balance to achieve and to maintain. One possible downside is conditions may unexpectedly change and upset that balance. It is worth noting that West Virginia removed approximately $165 million of business tax burden in fiscal year 2013 and more than $482 million during the past seven years. Since 2005, West Virginia has seen nearly $22 billion in new business investments.

“To make up for lost revenues, it’s important to find innovative ways to reduce the state budget without negatively impacting valuable services to residents. In West Virginia, we are transitioning our state fleet to natural gas vehicles to save on fuel, paving roads through inventive funding models like the public-private partnership and controlling the increase of our corrections population through justice reinvestment programs.”

Many states are competing for jobs and attracting new industries, especially with reshoring manufacturing companies. How do you make your state stand out?

“West Virginia offers many business advantages, including strategic location within an eight-hour drive to more than half the U.S. population and more than one-third of the Canadian market; a skilled and flexible workforce that has earned a reputation for dedication, loyalty and low absenteeism; and a cost of doing business that is nearly 14 percent lower than the U.S. average. We are situated atop the Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas formations. These are among the attractions we promote aggressively here in the U.S. and abroad. West Virginia operates international development offices in Japan and in Switzerland. The Forbes 2013 Best States for Business ranks West Virginia 13th in the nation in regards to the best cost of doing business.

What role does tourism play in creating jobs?

“Tourism is a vital part of a state’s economy and creates significant economic impacts in communities at the local level.

“Tourism is a growing and vital part of the West Virginia’s economy. The industry has impact in communities throughout the state. It supports more than 46,400 jobs, and in 2012, tourism spending in West Virginia exceeded $5.1 billion. We also take note of the many aspects of tourism and travel that influence quality of life, like our great outdoor recreation resources, which are an important factor when companies look at West Virginia to possibly locate here. The opening of the new Boy Scouts of America high-adventure facility, the development of new college degree programs in hospitality and tourism like the one at West Virginia University, as well as continued expansion and improvements in our state parks are just a few of the continued advancements the industry is making to expand job opportunities in our state.”