Fast-growing businesses don’t need tax relief to hire. They need trained workers.

Politicians agree on the soundbite: everyone should have a job that pays a living wage. But they don’t agree on how to make that happen. I’d like to help them by sharing some things I have learned. 

Working with leading community and economic development entities over the last two years, I’ve had a close look at our region’s workforce. The data consistently show our region has been adding and filling lower-paying jobs that do not require technical or specialized expertise. At the same time, however, many high-paying jobs that require technical skills are going unfilled.  

For example, experts tell me there are as many as 40,000 unfilled jobs in the cyber security industry in the greater Washington region. Business owners in hospitality, construction and healthcare tell me the same thing: good jobs are going unfilled.  

Here’s what some people who are currently working this problem have told me.  

Ed Barrientos is chief executive of Brazen Technologies, a rapidly growing startup focused on matching talent with jobs. He sees a “major crisis in the ability of businesses to hire qualified and skilled candidates” and points out that this is a broad issue that cuts across industries. More and more frequently, employers are expecting new employees to have the required skills at the time of hiring. Pressures on margins and competition make them less willing to take on the expense of training on the job. They need to hire people who can hit the ground running. 

This is a theme that was echoed by Dario Marquez, president and CEO of Wize Solutions, a business that matches high tech job opportunities in Northern Virginia with workers in Southwest Virginia. His work shows him that “many employers look for candidates to have technical certifications.” Employers not only want workers who say they are skilled – they want some objective measure to ensure that workers are skilled. 

Meeting this challenge of training and certification can’t happen business by business. There must be a paradigm shift in in how we train workers and satisfy employers that workers have the required skills. Glenn Nye, a former U.S. congressman and now an advisor to regional tech companies, including Palantir and FiscalNote, believes that “the jobs of tomorrow will require a rethinking of education, from content at the secondary level to more holistic approaches at the post-secondary level.” 

Addressing the reality of skilled employment is complex. Janet Van Pelt, the CEO of the education firm CourseMaven and an expert on training, sees the issue as having three main components: access to education, credentialing students to demonstrate skills attainment, and public policy. The locations that are the most successful are those where government and the private sector work closely together.

These are just a few examples of what I hear every day. Businesses need skilled employees, but for the most part they do not have sufficient resources or the time to solve this problem on their own. When a business is growing rapidly it can be a tremendous job creation opportunity. Paradoxically, that is the time when they can least afford to train, but most need, skilled workers. 

Owners of rapidly growing businesses in our region haven’t told me that if their taxes are lower, they’d hire more people. What they have told me is that their biggest problem is finding skilled talent to fill they jobs they have ready and waiting. 

Politicians who want to grow our region’s economy need to focus on what the region’s businessmen are saying. After all, they should know best what they need.  

 

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