The State Capitol. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

In pursuit of his vision for Virginia to be nationally recognized as the best place to live, work, and raise a family, Governor Glenn Youngkin is taking bold steps to strengthen Virginia’s talent base to meet the needs of business. In the first 18 months of his term as Governor, through his leadership, our team has championed the development of a new agency for workforce development, eliminated degree requirements for almost all state jobs, eliminated cumbersome qualification and testing requirements for state licensing of 85 different professions, and is investing in experiential work opportunities throughout the Commonwealth – resulting in expanded talent and workforce pipelines in every key industry. While we have made great progress, we are keeping our foot on the accelerator to continue reinvigorating our workforce and economy.

Through broad engagement with the Virginia General Assembly, education, business and industry leaders, and organized labor throughout the Commonwealth, Governor Youngkin celebrated the passage of House Bill 2195 and SB 1470, which create the Virginia Department of Workforce Development and Advancement (VDWDA) that will provide opportunity to more Virginians and create, sustain, and retain a highly skilled workforce. However, this achievement is just the beginning of a whole-of-government approach to creating a workforce that is ready for the jobs of today – and tomorrow.

As of July 1, Governor Youngkin revised state policy and eliminated degree requirements, preferences, or both, for almost 90 percent of state classified positions, recognizing that experience matters just as much as a degree. This landmark change in state agency hiring practices puts Virginia among the first in the nation to expand the qualified applicant pool and create more opportunities for jobs in public service. Every year, Virginia state agencies advertise over 20,000 job openings. By removing unnecessary degree requirements to focus on skills, certifications, and experience, these changes will help the Commonwealth reimagine its workforce and attract the next generation of government leaders. 

In addition to removing barriers to work and optimizing the Commonwealth’s workforce development services through the creation of the VDWDA, the Youngkin Administration is also making strong investments in work-based learning initiatives such as apprenticeships, internships, and other on-the-job training.  Programs, such as Registered Apprenticeships, provide earn-as-you-learn experiences and contribute to the resilient and talented workforce pipeline needed to grow the Virginia economy. The Governor has set a goal to expand the number of apprentices in the Commonwealth to 25,000 by the end of his term.

For Virginia to maintain its role as the best place to live, work, and raise a family, we need to make it easier for those moving into the Commonwealth to find a job, put down roots, and stay here. Therefore, we are examining regulated occupations and professions to find solutions to simplify and accelerate credentialing processes and universal license recognition. This year, Governor Youngkin signed legislation allowing for universal license recognition of 85 different professional licenses from other states. Under the new law, licensing boards under the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation will recognize out-of-state licenses for individuals who have held an equivalent license in another state for at least three years, are in good standing and underwent training and examination in their current state. This applies to cosmetologists and barbers; real estate agents; plumbers, electricians, gas fitters, and HVAC tradesman; home inspectors, and 77 other licensed occupations. This will have a tremendous, positive impact on Virginia’s ability to fill roles in critical labor sectors such as construction, affecting housing supply and timely completion of infrastructure projects. It will make Virginia more competitive with our neighboring states who offer more occupational freedom. 

Governor Youngkin is also focused on removing barriers that keep people from entering the workforce such as addressing mental health through programs like Right Help Right Now, fighting the scourge of fentanyl, or putting resources toward childcare access. Last December, the Governor announced $1.2 million in grant funding to support the Ready SWVA project for increased childcare options in Southwest Virginia. Ready SWVA is an economic development project specifically targeted toward workforce expansion. 

We have seen the impact of the Governor Youngkin’s focus on the talent driving Virginia’s economy. Recently, the Commonwealth reported its highest labor force participation rate since June of 2014, erasing nearly a decade of labor losses, and there are 150,000 more people working in Virginia than on inauguration day. Where there are more opportunities to live, work, and raise a family, our economy will not only grow, but all Virginians can thrive. Let’s keep the momentum going and “Compete to Win.”

Slater is Virginia Secretary of Labor.