RANDOLPH, Vt. – Rep. Peter Welch met with employers and leaders from Vermont Technical College on Tuesday to learn more about the challenges of workforce development in the era of COVID-19.
Four months ago, there was hope vaccinations and lifted restrictions would help Vermont businesses recover from a COVID-related slump. But it appears it’ll be a much longer battle when it comes to underlying factors like childcare access and housing.
“COVID has really had an impact on where people can work, and what they need in order to work,” Welch said. “Everyone here says childcare or paid family leave is really important to provide for an individual joining the workforce, some assurance their kids will be safe.”
Cathy Tempesta, vice president of Human Resources at GW Plastics, says many workers are moving to where the cost of living is more affordable.
“Many of them are saying I just can’t afford to live here anymore,” she said.
The jobs Vermont Technical College graduates can help fill in manufacturing and other sectors are in high demand. VTC President Pat Moulton said those same barriers often prevent would-be students from having the time or resources to enroll.
“Wages, education, training, transportation, wrap-around services, information technology,” Moulton said. “We had a handful of students who had no internet at home.”
Brian Kippen is the CEO of KAD Models and Prototypes, a small manufacturing company that hasn’t had any trouble hiring. But it hasn’t been immune to the consequences of workforce shortages.
“It’s the supply chain that we have issues with, so it’s not just ‘we have our staff, that’s fine’, but requiring materials, there’s people who are unable to deliver because they don’t have delivery staff,” Kippen said. “They don’t have the people inside of their companies cutting material, so we have this trickle down effect.”
Rep. Welch said this is all the result of structural changes to the economy, and with the burden falling mainly on employers, there needs to be public policy support to help them adjust.