First Blueprint Virginia

As we traveled across Virginia in 2013 while putting together the first Blueprint Virginia, we asked thousands of business executives around the Commonwealth what they saw as the key to their future competitiveness. More than anything else, they said they need to be able to recruit from a well-trained, capable workforce. Ensuring all Virginia children enter school prepared to succeed is not just a matter of doing the right thing – it is the smart thing to do for Virginia’s economy. As the Chief Human Resources Officer for Huntington Ingalls Industries and the President & CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, we want to share lessons from the 2016 Virginia School Readiness Report Card that we believe should be top of mind for all those with an interest in the Commonwealth’s economic health.

Fundamentally, we recognize that, in the words of the Chamber’s Blueprint, “a highly talented and educated workforce is the lynchpin of maintaining and elevating Virginia’s economic competitiveness,” and that Virginia will “need 2 million new workers to support the state’s economic growth over the next ten years.” The foundation for this workforce is set, much like the foundation for a house, in the developing brains and bodies of our youngest residents.

The Report Card tells us that many of our early childhood investments are already paying significant dividends. As one example, thanks at least in part to a focus on the first years of life, we have reduced the number of students needing to repeat an early elementary (Kindergarten-3rd) grade by a third. This is a benefit in and of itself, saving the state more than $23 million a year in annual per-pupil expenditures. It is also a benefit for the future: Research is clear that repeating a grade significantly increases the risk of not completing high school, and as we know, in this day and age a high school diploma is the minimum starting place for a productive career.

Yet the Report Card also makes it clear that we still have work to do, and that many potential innovators, entrepreneurs, and star employees continue to fall through the earliest cracks. For instance, 18.5% of low-income children are not entering kindergarten with the underlying skills that lead to reading on grade-level, compared to just 8.1% of their more affluent counterparts. No business can afford to write off nearly a fifth of its potential workforce pipeline because of fixable leaks at the earliest stages. Like any division of a company that is in the red, it requires strategic intervention.

That is why we support early childhood investments that are working and increased access to quality early childhood education for those who find it out of reach. After all, education and jobs are the twin pillars that provide Virginians pathways to greater opportunity for themselves and their families. If we apply the same vigor that has led to Virginia’s nationally recognized K-12 and post-secondary education system, we can build a workforce and economic foundation that is not just the envy of the nation, but the world.

Authors: Barry DuVal, President & CEO, Virginia Chamber of Commerce
William R. Ermatinger, Executive Vice President & Chief Human

August 22, 2016