RICHMOND, Va. -- Discussing ways universities and employers can work together to fill the skills gap was the topic at the Virginia Chamber of Commerce's 2021 Education and Workforce Conference Wednesday at the Richmond Convention Center.
"Right now, there's a mismatch between employee skills and worker needs," explained Jennifer Hunter, Senior Vice President of Altria Client Services.
Virginia gubernatorial candidates Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin spoke at the conference about the importance of education in boosting Virginia’s economy.
Both are hoping to keep young Virginians in the state after graduation.
While there were more degrees and certificates handed out in Virginia last year than ever before, according to the Virginia Business Higher Education Council, there are also more unfilled jobs than before the pandemic.
Many of those jobs are in the trades field, and there was a conversation about community colleges offering paid opportunities for students to learn skills, like HVAC and operating machinery.
But Dr. Robert Sandel, president of Virginia Western Community College, said they can't find enough students who want to enroll in these programs.
Educators at the conference noted they would also like to see employers visiting K-12 schools more often to talk to students and show them the jobs really needed in the Commonwealth.
There was also discussion about making college more affordable for low and middle-income families, as well as creating more paid internship opportunities for college students.