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Youngkin aims to consolidate state workforce programs

Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks into a microphone
Crixell Matthews
Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at an August press conference. Youngkin's administration hopes to consolidate Virginia's workforce development programs under one department. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin is proposing consolidating the state’s 1,500 workforce development programs under one state department. Currently, the state’s workforce programs are spread across 13 agencies and six secretariats, and they use $485 million in federal and state funding. 

Administration officials are aiming to set up the new Virginia Department of Workforce Development & Advancement in the first half of 2024 — if it’s approved during the upcoming General Assembly session.  

Currently, secretaries for Labor, Education, Commerce, Health and Human Resources, Veterans, Public Safety administer workforce programs. The Virginia Economic Development Partnership and community colleges have been two of the primary institutions tasked with training new workers. 

Youngkin, who often uses the phrase “both and” to describe policy initiatives, said his workforce proposal was no different in an interview with VPM News. 

“There's a huge educational opportunity for us to leverage the strength of our community college system and to really reorient our community college system towards workforce development and talent development,” said Youngkin, who is proposing funding an effort to connect community colleges and businesses. 

Governors dating back to Mark Warner (2002-06) have tried taking on workforce issues, but haven’t been able to find lasting solutions.  

“This is probably the most comprehensive and ambitious proposal that has happened during my tenure,” said Randy Stamper, Virginia Community College System’s associate vice chancellor for career education and workforce programs, who said he had been in the field in Virginia for about two decades. 

“I don't begin for a minute to think that we have a magic wand here, but I have run lots of large organizations. And in this case, I know that when you have disparate operations that all are underscaled or are working independently, they can work better together,” Youngkin said. "We can do this a lot better.”

Much of the reason workforce programs are spread out is because significant funding comes from the federal government, which funds individual programs as they apply. But Youngkin said the reorganization wouldn’t affect those arrangements. 

“This is not a matter of unplugging from well-understood and needed connectivity to federal government,” Youngkin said. “It's a matter of being able to assess success, and oh by the way, assess failure.”

DWDA would have a specific agency, Workforce Analytics, to manage data systems and portals currently under the Department of Education, the Virginia Community College System, and the Virginia Office of Education Economics. 

The Virginia Employment Commission would be renamed the Virginia Unemployment Assistance Commission under the proposal, remaining under the state labor secretary. Four workforce development service programs administered by VEC — Trade Adjustment AssistanceJobs for Veterans State Grants, Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessment Grants, and Title III of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act — would move to a new agency under DWDA, Workforce Development Services.

“The new VUAC’s primary mission will be effective delivery of unemployment insurance benefits and we do not expect the change to impact delivery of those services,” said Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter in an email. 

Youngkin and first lady Suzanne Youngkin got into workforce development before running for office. The two launched Virginia Ready, a nonprofit to retrain and place workers, in 2020. Cardinal News first reported Youngkin’s consolidation plans after Secretary of Labor G. Bryan Slater made the announcement in November. Slater also briefed the Virginia Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee on the plans at their annual retreat in November. 

'We can be efficient and we can be effective'

The reorganization would need stand-alone legislation. Youngkin seemed confident it would be able to pass through the General Assembly, where each chamber has different parties in control. 

“I firmly believe that this is not bipartisan but a nonpartisan topic,” Youngkin said. “We've seen support for these moves, both from Republicans and Democrats, and delegates and senators.”

“My initial reaction [was] that the governor clearly is continuing to build upon our successes,” said Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), who worked on the formation of the G3 tuition assistance program and the creation of the Secretary of Labor position as speaker of the house. 

“I would think that for anybody ... concerned about the future for the commonwealth would love us to be back [as the] number 1 state for doing business, focusing on having a strong workforce. And that's not going to happen without working with labor,” Filler-Corn said.

Who will carry the bill in the General Assembly is yet to be decided, according to the governor’s office.

Youngkin said creating the new department was in line with Republican small-government policies.

“A bloated, disparate construct that has workforce programs spread all over the place, and none of what you're measured for effectiveness, is the antithesis to what I believe government should be doing,” he said. “We can be efficient and we can be effective. I think it should run much more like a business, and that's what we're gonna go do.”

Approximately 400 state employees at the state and local office level would be affected by the proposal, according to the governor's spokesperson. 

A slide presentation for affected staff said there would be focus groups made up of affected personnel. A lobbyist for the Virginia Governmental Employees Association said it didn’t oppose the reorganization — as long as there are no layoffs and employees don’t have to relocate. 

Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.
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