WEYERS CAVE — It was a topic near and dear to the heart of Blue Ridge Community College’s mission, which is why it made sense for a roundtable on workforce training in the Shenandoah Valley on the Weyers Cave school’s campus.
The roundtable was part of U.S. Sen. Mark Warner’s, D-Va., two-day tour of the Valley, which also included a stop in Harrisonburg to talk with brewers, restaurateurs and other food service industry leaders.
Warner invited senior staff members from BRCC, local schools superintendents, including Harrisonburg City Public Schools Superintendent Michael Richards, and other leaders in commerce, tourism, workforce training and more.
Warner began by addressing the challenges facing schools and local communities over the past 13 months, especially those of kindergarten through 12th grade school divisions, which have faced pushback as they strove to safely open school for students.
“I just want to say you’ve had it hardest if you are a superintendent or a school board member,” Warner said. “You have pissed everyone off.”
He went on to discuss some legislation coming down the pipe at the federal and state level, including packages for higher education and K-12 education. He talked about a $2 billion higher education package for Virginia, and a national K-12 package of $143 billion.
The proposals will allow for more flexibility in how colleges and local school divisions spend the money, unlike the federal CARES Act money, which was specific about how the money could be spent.
Warner then got to the topic of the day, which was workforce training.
“This is an area where all COVID packages have fallen short,” he said. “Ten to 15% of jobs lost aren’t coming back.”
This leaves many people without jobs but with an opportunity to be retraining in another field, if the opportunities are readily available to them, he said.
BRCC President John Downey discussed an issue facing potential students: transportation or the cost of relocation.
“You’re right. We used to be one of the most mobile countries,” Warner said, adding that has changed.
Warner said he will be pressing hard for funding and programs that value the investment in human capital.
“[President Joe] Biden is not thinking bold enough. ... We need to redefine investment in human capital,” he said.
Warner brought up an example about how a company can write off a purchase of a robot but can’t for a $5,000 investment in training for employees.
The day ended with a tour of one of BRCC’s newest buildings on campus.