U.Va. Demographers Examine State's Workforce Trends and Challenges in Latest 'Stat Chat'

November 26, 2008 — Despite declining economic growth and resulting job losses, Virginia employers will continue to need skilled workers in all occupations and at all levels, according to demographers at the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

Jobs across a wide range of occupations have characterized Virginia's economy for decades. In times of economic contraction, the actual number of job openings may decrease, but the range of occupations in Virginia is likely to remain.

"Virginia's economic vitality depends on workers with many different sets of skills and levels of education to perform a wide diversity of jobs," reported Meredith Strohm Gunter, co-author of the Cooper Center's latest Stat Chat, a periodical that provides a statistical snapshot of Virginia's workforce. "While it may be tempting as a matter of state policy and investment to concentrate on the high-technology, scientific and engineering occupations that require high levels of educational attainment, prudent state workforce policy will encourage the development of highly skilled and highly valued workers at all levels," she said.

The snapshot examines Virginia's occupations, average annual openings in the largest and fastest-growing occupations, and the anticipated educational attainment preferred by the commonwealth's employers. Over the next decade, job openings are expected for workers with every level of educational attainment, and more than half of all openings are expected in occupations for which on-the-job training is the most significant source of postsecondary education.

"Increasingly employers ask that we deliver workers who have basic skills in reading, communication, use of technology and who come ready to work, work well with others and are dedicated to the employer's goals," Gunter added. "Once employees are hired, many Virginia employers invest in sponsoring on-the-job training including, in some cases, continuing education through Virginia's community college system."

While Virginians outperform the nation through higher percentages of undergraduate, graduate and professional degree holders, the snapshot calls attention to the need to improve educational attainment for young men.

According to Achsah Carrier, co-author of the snapshot, "Male educational attainment has been declining and trailing behind female counterparts. When we compare this generation of 25- to 34-year-olds to their parents, females are achieving more educational success than their parents' generation, and males are achieving less. This issue deserves further study and, perhaps, special initiatives to capture and build on the talents of Virginia's young men."

In addition, the Stat Chat calls for attention to Virginia's foreign-born residents, a growing element of the workforce. Initiatives to address the special education and language training needs of Virginia's growing foreign-born population may be necessary to maximize their contribution to the Virginia economy.

"Preparing Virginians to be a competitive workforce in the future is not as simple as increasing the number of students going to college," said Carrier and Gunter. "Well-trained and highly skilled workers are needed at all occupational levels – and to remain the best state for business, we must not leave behind any segment of Virginia's talents."

— By Rebecca Arrington