In 2013, the Small Business Administration funded a Supply Chain Analysis Report. Almost half of the manufacturers noted that recent graduates of the high school systems, across all three counties, possessed inadequate math and logic skills to be employable. The school system was also identified as the top deterrent to recruiting talent from outside the region. One of the first questions manufacturers stated their recruits ask is about the quality of the local public school system. Due to the poor performance of public schools compared to other areas of Virginia, many employees chose to live more than 45 minutes from their place of employment. This leaks revenue outside of the region and does not support the growth of the regional tax base. Over half of the businesses interviewed noted a local culture that is unaccustomed to the demands of working in a modern manufacturing plant.
The story of Southern Virginia isn’t that its high school education levels lag behind state and national averages – although that gap is closing – nor is it that four year college degrees are about half the state average. The story of the region is that fulfilling, well-paying careers are viable options with any post-secondary training or education and the Southside Planning District’s rate of non-four year degree post-secondary education outpaces both state and national levels. The career equivalence of technical training and Associate’s degrees in terms of viable careers and good quality of life needs to be highlighted in all public school systems.
The Federal Reserve is promoting that, in secondary schools, emphasis needs to be placed on keeping students in school until they receive their high school diplomas. Local vocational and technical education must be enhanced to prepare these students for career development and job preparation. A mismatch exists between the occupations most in demand by local employers and the availability of those skills. Increased outreach on tech-prep programs and apprenticeship programs to both high school students and adults is needed.