State delegates discuss labor shortage at breakfast

WINCHESTER — Local members of the Virginia House of Delegates advertised their interest Thursday in finding answers to a regional labor shortage.

The delegates — Chris Collins, Randy Minchew and David LaRock — all supported plans that would encourage people to receive a technical education.

“We have individuals that need to get that jobs training,” Collins said.

Collins, R-Winchester, was joined by fellow Republicans Randy Minchew and Dave LaRock at a breakfast hosted by the Top of Virginia Building Association at the George Washington Hotel.

LaRock pointed to a bill that he introduced in January that would allow special needs students and foster children to receive grant funding for attending a noncredit workforce credential program at a Virginia community college.

“The idea is to use that as an incentive for kids to pursue this career path who might not otherwise be able to afford it,” LaRock said.

LaRock said there has been a strict limit on the amount of funds the Virginia General Assembly has been able to spend in addressing labor shortages, especially because the state of Virginia has had a budget shortfall of over $1 billion for the 2016 fiscal year.

LaRock’s bill expands upon a bill passed during the 2016 Virginia session. It would limit the amount of unallocated funds the provision would cost the state. That earlier bill created a grant program for special needs students and foster children attending community college but did not apply to people enrolled in noncredited workforce programs.

Minchew also said that he supported targeted grants aimed at getting people to enroll in workforce training programs. He suggested that a targeted grant proposal may be able to pass the General Assembly.

“In this area, where there is a real shortage of trained folks, that’s something we can do … to help you guys to provide housing,” Minchew said.

LaRock credited the current labor shortage in construction jobs with an ongoing cultural shift that has led people away from blue-collar jobs.

“Our culture seems to have devalued, to some degree, a hard day’s work,” LaRock said.

Whatever the cause, the delegates expressed concern that without acting, they could be stifling development in the Shenandoah Valley.

“When I was with the Board of Supervisors, that’s one of the issues that we heard of quite a bit from businesses,” Collins said. “We said, ‘Why aren’t you going to move into our area?’ And the answer was, ‘You don’t have the employees that we need.”

Minchew, who represents a district encompassing parts of Frederick, Clarke and Loudoun counties, credited some of the recent business development in Frederick County with the strength of the skilled workforce in that area.

“Frederick County is doing a better job of workforce development in conjunction with its K-12 education system and its local community college, Lord Fairfax, than others in the state,” Minchew said.

In addition to discussing labor shortages in the area, the delegates discussed the Va. 37 extension in Winchester.

“I believe that it’s a priority of the community and because of that, it will get done,” LaRock said.

LaRock didn’t give a predicted time frame for the completion of the extension.

The three delegates are all running for re-election this year. The General Assembly session ended on Feb. 25.

Contact staff writer Max Lee at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or mlee@nvdaily.com