Workforce development remains key concern in 2019

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MORRISVILLE, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont's unemployment rate remains low and the workforce isn't growing. That means employers are finding it hard to fill jobs with qualified workers. Gov. Phil Scott has made growing the workforce a top priority and is expected to focus on it again in his second term.

In November 2010 the state's workforce was more than 359,000. In November of this year? Just 345,000. Older Vermonters are retiring and there aren't enough younger residents to replace them. It's a problem the state must address, and one that is already impacting employers.

"We're the hub for Lamoille County and we have a severe employee shortage," said Todd Thomas, Morrisville's zoning administrator and planning director. He's trying to improve conditions for employers like MSI -- a local maker of exercise equipment. "They've resorted to private busses every day coming out of Chittenden County for an eight-hour factory shift and then going back to Burlington at the end of the day."

In Morrisville, housing costs have outpaced pay and more affordable housing is needed. Thomas says state regulations are holding up construction, so he'd like the state to make it easier to create more housing.

One employer in Chittenden County, Dealer Policy, thinks it has a solution for attracting and keeping workers. "It's not as easy as putting a Craigslist ad or a Facebook post out there with a job posting. That really gets you nowhere. People are looking for opportunities to grow in their career," said Jeff Mongeon, Dealer's policy president. The company combined car insurance with technology and the idea has taken off. There were 13 employees three years ago. Now there are 150, and plans to add another 200 in 2019.

"It's been crazy. It's not easy. It's chaotic hiring this many people and training this many people," Mongeon said. He says it starts with an extensive paid-training program that creates licensed insurance agents. "It's a huge investment for us, but then again, if you don't invest in the people, what do you really have?"

After the training program, new employees earn about $50,000 and have full-benefits and work perks to go with it. Mongeon says employers might be easier to hire elsewhere, but Dealer Policy wants to stay in Vermont. "Vermont has really good people and some qualities in people that you maybe won't find elsewhere also. We actually have found that young Vermonters do want to stay in Vermont. If you walk around our company you'll see the average age is pretty young," he said.

The challenge for the Scott administration and lawmakers is figuring out how more companies can thrive like Dealer Policy.