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McQuiston: Workforce Development

There’s hardly an industry in Vermont that doesn’t need more and better trained workers. Even Farm to Table, an organization that supports locally grown food, is promoting more agricultural workforce development.

Want ads across the state are running for everything from medical professionals and engineers to full time manufacturing, retail and seasonal workers. But matching the right skills with the right person is also critical and more difficult than you might expect. And a lack of workers, or the right worker, or the right worker at the right time, can put a stranglehold on the economy.

With the caveat “at the moment,” Vermont’s economy is doing pretty well. But according to figures compiled by the Vermont Futures Project, there’s still a workforce shortage of nearly eleven thousand workers. So the governor wants to begin addressing that gap at the rate of twenty two hundred workers a year.

The long-term plan is to find ways to retain more of the state’s youth, entice college grads to look for work locally, support immigration, and persuade former Vermonters to come back home. But the state needs workers, literally, today, so the administration is turning its attention to a gold mine of potential workers that’s been largely overlooked so far: Vermonters like young retirees, stay-at-home spouses; seniors; and college students.

While Vermont has a relatively high percentage of its in situ population working (roughly 65 percent against a US average of less than 60 percent), other states, including New Hampshire, have a higher participation rate. Getting to New Hampshire’s rate would represent more than 10,000 new workers in Vermont.

Some Vermonters simply left the workforce during the Great Recession and haven’t come back. Others who aren’t now part of the labor force might wonder how they can fit in with their obligations to home or school. Others may not know where to start or if they’re even wanted.

These people aren’t technically part of the labor force, and therefore aren’t counted in the unemployment rate, but they’re a veritable goldmine.

So what the state, business organizations and private employers want to do is convince them they are indeed wanted, coax them back into the workforce, find them the right job in the right place and train them.

The state knows they’re out there, but because they’ve left the labor force, this goldmine, like most goldmines, will be hard to find.

Tim McQuiston is editor of Vermont Business Magazine.
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