By DUSTIN DEGREE

From his first day in office, Gov. Phil Scott has made expanding our workforce and getting more Vermonters into good paying jobs the foundation of his economic mission. Putting folks into jobs we know are available in Vermont is one of the most effective ways to grow the economy.

That emphasis, combined with the administration’s new efforts to get more Vermonters into the work place, is beginning to show progress. And under Scott’s leadership, we have finally started to reverse a nearly 10-year decline in the size of our labor force.

In June 2018, there were 348,287 people in our labor force – 4,656 more people than in December 2017. Six straight months of labor force expansion, after nearly a decade of decline and stagnation, is a reason for optimism. We’re back on the right track!

These measures are up for a variety of reasons, and could continue to improve as new initiatives help even more Vermonters get back to work and attract new working-age families to our state. For example, this year’s budget invests in expanding adult technical education.

Many Vermont businesses have good paying jobs but need candidates with specific skills. Just as a truck driver needs a CDL, someone working on a high-tech factory floor needs a level of expertise not always found in a traditional education.

By establishing training programs specific to the jobs available around the state, we’ll be able to provide job-seekers with the right skills, at the right time.

We’re also excited to create Vermont’s first “Returnship” program, providing training for workers who have a history of employment, but who may have left the workforce to raise children, take care of an elderly parent, or any one of many common situations that cause a break in labor force participation.

And we’re working to match the thousands of students who choose Vermont for college with available job openings before they graduate; supporting our neighbors in recovery hoping for their first job after overcoming addiction; and we will be one of the first states in the nation to offer licensing reciprocity to members of the military as they leave full time service and enter the civilian job market. This will help ensure they are able to use the skills they’ve learned in uniform, once their service has come to an end.

With the governor’s focus on strengthening and expanding the labor force and growing the economy, and with support from legislators on both sides of the aisle, we’ve made important strides for Vermonters.

  And there’s more good news.

There are more people employed in Vermont today than at any point since April 2011. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 339,514 Vermonters are now working. That’s an increase of more than 4,500 in the last six months alone.

To put that in perspective, that’s about the same as the population of the town of Georgia, or Randolph or Castleton.

We’re also starting to see a greater portion of the population in the labor force. Our labor participation rate has increased by about 2 percent since the beginning of 2017.

We’re seeing the number of caseloads decrease in Human Services, as fewer Vermonters are in need of economic services. And the state ended fiscal year 2018 with a $70 million surplus across all funds.

In this political climate, it’s often easier to count the negative headlines and political drama of the day. But, far above the superficial soundbites, the Scott Administration, working together with legislators and state, local and federal partners, is making real and measurable progress towards a stronger economic future for all Vermonters.

There’s plenty more to do, and we must continue making positive gains for all Vermonters, but this is very good news worth sharing.

Dustin A. Degree is the director of workforce expansion for Gov. Phil Scott’s administration. He also serves as executive director of the State Workforce Development Board and is a former state senator from Franklin County.