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University of Virginia Demographers Help Corrections Agency Assess Local Workforce

August 14, 2008 — Virginia’s Department of Corrections will have access to an adequate supply of correctional officer candidates in five case-study locations, according to a report completed in July by demographics and workforce professionals at the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

Under contract to the state Department of Corrections, Cooper Center demographers assessed the current and future workforce supply for three existing correctional facilities and two sites for new or proposed facilities at the request of the Virginia General Assembly.

"The center's methodology in the corrections study could be adapted for other employers, " said Qian Cai, director of the demographics and workforce section and principal investigator of the study. . "As long as we know the desired employee characteristics, including educational attainment, we can evaluate the availability of potential employees for any employer in any region in Virginia."

The corrections agency sought the data on five sites — Fluvanna, Haynesville and Greensville (all existing), Grayson (under construction) and Charlotte (proposed).

"Effective planning for correctional facilities requires assessing the availability of a consistent and qualified workforce," Cai said. "By matching the profile of qualified correctional officers to local and regional demographic projections, we were able to evaluate whether the Department of Corrections will have access to an adequate pool of workers."

Currently, the state's 42 corrections facilities employ more than 6,000 people. This study projects the employment needs and availability from 2008-2030 for the five sites included in the research.

"The projection in a nutshell tells us there will be a sufficient younger workforce that would qualify as corrections officers," Cai said.

Demographers compared the characteristics (including age, gender, racial and ethnic composition, educational attainment and appropriate prior experience) of existing correctional officers to the population in the region surrounding the existing or proposed correctional facilities.

Taking into account commuting patterns, access and regional employment competitors, results of the workforce supply and recruitment/retention challenges were summarized in a "report card" for each location.

The results of the corrections study should be reassuring to legislators, she said. "Contrary to concerns that the aging population in some areas of the state may limit the available workforce to fill the corrections positions, our study found the quantity of labor supply is not a problem," Cai said. "The real challenges lie in how to shape the workplace in order to meet the needs of the changing workforce and to be competitive with area employers.

"The strategies we have recommended should help correctional facilities attract and retain qualified employees, and may shed light on other workplaces facing similar challenges. Examples of the strategies include better promotion and marketing of the positions, using the internet to reach the younger workforce, providing schedule flexibility to balance personal and family needs and offering opportunities for professional growth."

For information, contact Qian Cai (pronounced Chien Tsai) at 434-982-5581 or by e-mail at qian.cai@virginia.edu.

— By Rebecca Arrington

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