HJR 622

Joint Subcommittee to Study Noncredit Education for Workforce Training in Virginia

June 11, 1997, Newport News

The joint subcommittee is directed to examine "the needs of business and industry, the lack of funding for non-credit training and retraining courses requested by business and industry, and the absence of a public policy to provide sound and continuous training opportunities for businesses in the Commonwealth." In addition, the joint subcommittee is specifically charged to identify the courses and programs of study in highest demand by business and industry in Virginia; develop a process for assessing the future demand and appropriate public policy for non-credit education and workforce training programs; recommend the appropriate share of the costs of such programs to be borne by the Commonwealth; and recommend initiatives that will sustain a highly skilled labor force to meet the needs of existing business and industry and facilitate the recruitment of new businesses.

Preparing a Skilled Workforce

An increasingly global marketplace, characterized by sophisticated communications, ever-changing computer technology, and intense foreign competition, has prompted significant changes in state economic development policies in recent decades. Experts contend that states should address the preparation of a highly skilled work force—one that is capable of assuming greater responsibility for a wide variety of tasks and that possesses the flexibility and skills required to make decisions and to adapt to changing tasks. Because individuals currently in the workforce must keep pace with ongoing changes in technology and business, continuing education and workforce training must be available to provide opportunities to acquire or upgrade job skills. Employers in the United States spend approximately $30 billion annually for formal worker training.

The result of an historically unfocused national approach to worker training, experts contend, has been a "complex and fragmented network of adult training efforts" characterized by education, social, and economic development initiatives that incorporate training as part of their missions. Among these initiatives are government-funded training programs targeting certain "special needs" workers. Two-thirds of $5.7 billion expended annually by the federal government for employment and training is consumed by the Job Training Partnership Act, comprised primarily of programs addressing training assistance for disadvantaged youth and adults, dislocated workers, summer youth employment and training, and the Job Corps. A number of state initiatives complement these federal programs.

Workforce Training in Virginia

The director of training for Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) noted the "vital role" of community colleges in workforce development. NNS spends approximately $20 million annually on internal workforce training efforts, which include voluntary, off-hours training through night school; media-based learning centers; an accredited, four-year apprentice school; a program design and development group; production and maintenance skills training; reading and mathematics improvement programs; and a tuition reimbursement initiative through which over 1,300 requests were granted last year, totaling over $500,000.

Some of these initiatives, particularly those offered off-hours and on a voluntary basis, are offered in cooperation with the public schools and Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC). Specifically, TNCC teaches some courses in design and advanced operations curricula with the NNS apprentice school and evening classes in industrial management certificate program for NNS supervisors. Most of the workforce training at NNS, however, is provided by its staff and training organization, which employs 119 individuals. The NNS representative urged state and local governments to help ensure adequate preparation for new entrants to the workforce; basic educational skills as well as occupational training are necessary ingredients for the incoming worker. Also noted was an "outdated view of noncredit instruction"; the state's failure to support noncredit workforce instruction hampers the ability of community colleges to respond more effectively to workforce training needs. Although community colleges may serve some long-term training needs in established credit-bearing courses, some of these traditional course offerings are ill-matched to industrial training needs. The time required for curriculum development, approval, and implementation of new credit programs slows the community college response to training needs.

Also noted was the creation of economic incentives for employer-sponsored training. These incentives, such as the tax credit provided by HB 2367 (1997), would help business through a direct tax benefit and would also encourage employers to train their own workers, rather than simply recruit from other companies that do provide training. Finally, the state, as a "catalyst" for development, might also support workforce training by "designing and funding organizations which promote regional approaches" and the development of systems rather than programs. Public schools, regional vocational centers, community colleges, certain programs in four-year institutions, government-sponsored training programs, employer-provided training, and training provided by private, for-profit entities might all be considered elements of a system addressing regional workforce development.

Representatives of private, proprietary schools noted that these institutions also provide workforce training at costs comparable to that of community colleges. Discussion then focused on the amount of state funding needed to assist community colleges in the delivery of noncredit instruction. While $10 million might be necessary to cover current costs across the community college system, the availability of state support might increase the number of businesses seeking this training alternative.

Members also discussed whether community college instruction had been rejected by business as too costly; how assessments might be made regarding what types of noncredit instruction should be provided or supported; whether some noncredit courses could be designed as credit courses, and therefore covered by state funding; and what coordination between business and educators would be necessary to obviate the need for additional training for community college graduates. Members also noted three distinct issues: preparation prior to employment; personal improvement objectives, such as those that might be addressed through tuition reimbursement; and targeted in-service training.

The Honorable Alan A. Diamonstein, Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Kathleen G. Harris