Opinion: Commentary: Realizing Dreams and Filling Jobs in Virginia

Opinion: Commentary: Realizing Dreams and Filling Jobs in Virginia

This session, General Assembly members are considering a proposal that would help close the Commonwealth’s skills gap by providing workforce scholarships to individuals without access to the community college education required to gain these skills. This proposal is a win-win-win: assisting students, growing businesses, and developing our communities.

We are describing Governor Northam’s “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” (G3) budget initiative. G3 is a last-dollar workforce scholarship program designed to create opportunities for low and middle-income families. The support it provides would make-up the difference between what financial aid covers and the actual cost of tuition, fees, and books for targeted programs in high demand fields.

Qualifying students must select a career field in which employers cannot find enough qualified candidates. In Northern Virginia, these include IT, Cybersecurity, and Healthcare. In other words, G3 is an investment in continued and accelerated regional economic growth.

Because of Northern Virginia’s historically low unemployment rate, it has become clear that we need to “Grow our Own” workforce through educating more people to fill high-demand and high-value positions. In fact, finding and developing talent has emerged as the top concern of members of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce. For that reason, the G3 plan has already earned the official endorsement of the Chamber.

Our initial estimate is that approximately 12 percent or 8,400 Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) students could be eligible to participate in G3, and our data show that 60 percent of NOVA students work part-time while pursuing college. They want to and need to work but lack the credentials needed to find full-time employment in high demand fields. Many cobble together multiple part-time jobs, which makes them take much more than two years to complete an associate degree. This workforce-based initiative would make it easier for our students to place a priority on quickly completing their education and finding sustaining wage careers. These graduates can stay in our region, building their families and contributing to their communities.

The Commonwealth wants G3 recipients to understand their responsibility to those who are supporting their education, so in return for this financial support, G3 students will be asked to “give back” to our state by completing two hours of community or public service for each credit hour in which they are enrolled.

Through offering more NOVA students a chance at the American Dream, we do much more than help individual students; we assure a competitive business climate, continued regional growth, and graduates connected to the communities they serve. NOVA is committed to assuring that every student succeeds, every program achieves, and every community prospers. G3 supports this mission, and we encourage you to voice your support for this transformational program.

If you would like to let General Assembly members know you support the Governor’s G3 initiative, please let them know. If you are unsure who your delegate and senator might be, you can access whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov, then enter your address and find out.

Anne M. Kress, PhD is Northern Virginia Community College’s new President. Todd Rowley is Chair of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce.