Workforce Development – The Lack of Career Ladder Jobs

This evening, Albemarle County’s Planning Commission will launch a review of the Economic Development Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan.  Starting with workforce development, the commission will review the strategies listed in the current plan and consider the creation of new strategies. 

The review of the Economic Development policy must be focused on how this chapter is interrelated with the other aspects of the Comprehensive Plan and what type of “Enterprise Environment” results from fully enacting the provisions in the plan. 

“It is not by planting trees or subsidizing tree planting in a desert created by politicians that the government can promote … industry, but by refraining from measures that create a desert environment.” – The Economist (March 3, 1990) 

Based on our read of the statistics prepared for tonight’s meeting, the Planning Commission may be starting at the wrong end of the Economic Development Elephant. 

Workforce Development is a very different problem in Albemarle County than in most areas of the country.  With historically low unemployment and an educated workforce almost 48,000 strong, the workforce issue is much more about “underemployment” rather than unemployment.

Comparatively Virginia and Albemarle County have about the same percentage of high school graduate population (86% to 87% respectively) but when when looks to the population with a bachelor’ degree or more the state is far behind Albemarle County (54% to 30% respectively).

As a potential impact of the higher education level, Albemarle County has 3% points lower rate of people living below the poverty line (2000 statistics) compared with the balance of the state.  Conversely, the working poor must compete in a job market filled with well educated applicants. 

While career ladder jobs exist in health, government and education sectors, the balance of the industries do not have a large number of middle level positions.  This scarcity of positions often leads to the flight of the middle managers or under employment.  A third option is the “forced entrepreneur” theory, it may be argued that the dearth of mid level jobs could be driving much of the entrepreneurial spirit in this population cohort.   

It is important to remember that the end goal in this process is an improved “Enterprise Environment” not just jobs.  As the Mercatus Center at George Mason University found in its June 2006 Policy Comment:

“Economic performance does not hinge on job growth per se, but on labor productivity and entrepreneurship, which ultimately translate into higher employment.” 

Workforce development priorities must be balanced with other economic development need including regulatory review and revision to improve the business environment and therefore grow the economic prospects for the entire community.

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