The Ruff Report: FROM RICHMOND

GUEST OPINION

GAME CHANGER

The data is now starting to become available on the workforce training program that I forced through over the last several years. The numbers are spectacular!

The program is now referred to as FastForward. The goal was to train in the skills that our communities need.

So far, over 11,000 independently-certified credentials have been earned. 98% have been in the 12 occupations most in demand in the state.

Lives of those who have received this training are changing, as well as their families’. In pay alone, they’re earning from 21% to 58% more than they were before training. In most cases, that occurred after only a few weeks of intense training.

In addition to higher incomes, 90% now have employer-sponsored health care, 85% now qualify for paid vacation, 75% have paid sick leave as well as better work schedules working in jobs they prefer.

Because tax data lags other data, we know only the tax records of the first 2,500 who have received certification. Those 2,500 earned $81 million last year. That’s a $15 million increase from their former jobs.

Prior to their training, 20% were on various government benefit programs. Now they’re not only able to care for their families, but, in addition, they’re contributing to the state by paying taxes.

In the years prior to this, I had been invited to speak to the Community College System’s Board. They were somewhat shocked when I pointed out to them that we in the real world did not focus on degrees but rather on the value that an individual could add to a business. If that person had no skills and no work ethic, they were a drag on that business -- not an asset.

That began a trek that led to legislation passed in the Senate but stalled in the Appropriations Committee of the House of Delegates for several years. I was particularly concerned about those experienced workers who were losing their jobs in 2009 and 2010. They needed to learn new skills but, with dependent children, they couldn’t afford to be out of the workforce for two years of training. By that time, they would lose their home.

We needed a way to get people back into the workforce quickly so they could care for their families. To date, the average age of the program enrollee is 36. Two-out-of-three have dependents who rely on them.

With this data now in hand, it will be much easier to make the case that this program is paying for itself. Those first 2,500 paid over $4 million in taxes.

As new numbers continue to be reported, new certifications awarded, wages continue to rise from experience, and the reduced need for government benefits are calculated, these new taxpayers will be an even greater asset to Virginia. As the skills needed in various sectors of our economy change, we must continue to monitor the needs of Virginia businesses.

As George Peppard use to say on the television show of the 1980s, The A Team, “I love it when a plan comes together!”

I am extremely proud to have been the author of the legislation that created this program. I am proud that, working together with Delegate Kathy Byron, we were able to navigate the process -- not as quickly as we would have liked -- and create this program.

You can reach Sen. Ruff at: Sen.Ruff@verizon.net, 434-374-5129, or P. O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.

Blackstone Courier Record

111 Maple St.

Blackstone, VA 23824

(434) 292-3019