Hot jobs of the future
State is boosting efforts to produce a skilled workforce for STEM-H occupations
What are the hot jobs of the future?
In Virginia, plenty of openings are expected in health-care support and STEM occupations. That means work for scientists, actuaries, nurses, and home-health and personal-care aides.
STEM-H stands for science, technology, engineering, math and health. It’s an acronym people will be hearing a lot as Virginia prepares for employment growth.
By 2022, the commonwealth expects to add 534,207 jobs to its workforce, many of them skilled, well-paid positions in high-tech fields. To prepare, the state is taking deliberate steps now to ensure it will have workers with the skills to fill and keep those positions.
In August, Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order directing state agencies to “take immediate action to marshal the commonwealth’s education and training resources” to meet the shifting demands of the workplace. His initiative puts particular emphasis on generating 50,000 so-called STEM-H credentials — licenses, apprenticeships and associate degrees.
Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones estimates that in the coming decade at least 50 percent of Virginia’s jobs will require “these sorts of technical know-how.”
McAuliffe’s directive comes with a sense of urgency not always associated with bureaucratic undertakings. By late October, agencies, including the Department of Labor and Industry, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the Virginia Department of Education, were to have reported on where the state stands on workforce credentials. Their reports were to cover recommendations for a three-year strategy for meeting the governor’s STEM-H objectives.
Jones is tasked with using that information to produce a plan for monitoring and measuring progress toward the initiative’s goals. The directive comes with a deadline — the end of December.
Another key part of the governor’s initiative is a “Patriot Pledge,” a push to get 10,000 businesses to commit to hiring veterans. Virginia is home to about 840,000 veterans, many of them still in their 20s, and that number is expected to grow. Jones’ secretariat has until the end of November to deliver its plan for increasing veteran employment.
Diversifying the state away from its heavy reliance on Washington is still another priority. Currently, 30 percent of Virginia’s economy depends on the federal sector. Reduced federal spending has driven home the importance of diversifying the state’s economy. A plan to encourage industries that do not rely on federal contracts or grants is due Dec. 1.
Working across agencies is going to be a challenge. “The workforce system is diverse and diffuse and encompasses 24 different programs,” says Jones. “Our key role will be to turn them into a high-functioning team to work with the private sector. We are clear about what our priorities are. We are all aspiring to the same results.”
The state’s colleges and universities also will be essential to the push to modernize Virginia’s workforce. “We will need to up our education game to close the skills gap,” says Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, which includes 23 colleges with 40 major campuses serving 400,000 students.
Not only will community colleges have to produce more associate degrees, they will have to institute “more short-term career pathway programs,” the chancellor says, some requiring as brief a commitment as five or six weeks. Billing and coding for health care, commercial driver’s licenses and welding certificates are three of the short-term pathways DuBois cites as targets for rapid expansion.
“Too many people come [to community colleges] without leaving with credentials,” DuBois says. “We want them to leave with something that is worth something in the marketplace.”
During a recent conference on workforce training in Richmond, DuBois urged the state to re-examine the lack of financial aid for students enrolled in licensure and certification programs. Currently, state financial aid is restricted to credit-degree programs only.
Community colleges will be crucial in training veterans, too. Part of DuBois’ mission will be to find ways to certify the skills that veterans learned during their military service.
David Tysinger, an economist with the Virginia Employment Commission, specializes in labor market information, including unemployment rates, occupational projections and wage rates. For 2012-2022, he predicts an overall 13.5 percent increase in employment, or those more-than-500,000 jobs. Health-care support positions are expected to see a 33.6 percent growth in numbers while STEM occupations will grow by 24.6 percent.
If Virginia is allowed to drill offshore for oil and natural gas, supporters say, that development would birth a new industry with the commonwealth seeing as many as 31,000 new jobs over 20 years, starting in 2017 — the earliest date drilling could begin.
The types of jobs in demand will vary widely by region. Although Richmond economist Chris Chmura says low-paying retail and service jobs will predominate statewide, computer and IT positions are expected to surge in Northern Virginia.
In Hampton Roads, which Jones describes as “the capital of the country for shipbuilding and repair,” machinists and welders will be highly employable. Meanwhile in Southern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, the better-paying work will be in factories.
Having an appropriate workforce is vital. “When firms consider relocating or expanding, they ID the skill sets of the region,” says Chmura. With computer and technology increasingly central to manufacturing, the state must show that it has the workers with the skills to fill potential new factory jobs. “Manufacturing is not your grandfather’s manufacturing anymore,” says Jones.
Rolls-Royce could be a model for the governor’s vision of businesses, communities and educational institutions cooperating in the future. The British company’s 1,000-acre Crosspointe campus in Prince George County is home to a $170 million jet components factory that employs 150 tech-savvy workers. Rolls-Royce added a $136 million airfoil-machining plant that will employ 140, but it is not yet operational. The company has committed to eventually investing $500 million and hiring 500 workers at Crosspointe. It expects some of its suppliers to locate to the campus as well.
To ensure it would have skilled workers, Rolls-Royce joined in training efforts with the state, the county, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia State University and the Virginia Community College System. It has teamed with the Community College Workforce Alliance, which draws particularly on efforts by John Tyler Community College.
Furthermore, Will Powers, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Rolls-Royce North America, says his company is joining with the state and other concerned parties to develop an apprentice academy through the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, a collaborative research organization.
“This academy would establish a strong pipeline of skilled workers to support the growing needs of Rolls-Royce and other companies in the state,” he says.
Powers, not surprisingly, is bully on the governor’s plan to train workers for the future. “There is a great opportunity for improvement in the area of workforce development,” he says, “and we are happy to see the Governor’s Workforce Initiative focus on growing the pool of skilled workers in Virginia.”