A Scalable System To Lower Unemployment

In June of last year, Glenn Youngkin announced he was going to retire as co-CEO of The Carlyle Group. Youngkin had shared leadership of the asset manager with Kewsong Lee. As Youngkin explored a future in politics and was hailed as a potential gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, Lee made it clear he wanted the role of CEO to himself.  

 Youngkin obliged. We should be happy he did. 

 Since last summer, Youngkin has zagged when others expected him to zig by plunging directly into politics. Instead of running for governor, he pulled back and laid the groundwork for a future move into politics. I, for one, hopes he stays on his current path. What he’s doing now is far more interesting and vital. He founded, with an idea from his wife, an organization to help put Virginians back to work in the wake of unemployment as a result of the coronavirus lockdowns.  

“What I do know is that I have long felt a calling to service,” Youngkin wrote to his colleagues. Covid-19’s massive disruptions and intense social and economic challenges have only strengthened that conviction.”

Less than a month before announcing his retirement, Youngkin had already launched the Virginia Ready Initiative, in cooperation with Gov. Ralph Northam. Youngkin recognized the need for it after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic only months earlier.  

The Wall Street Journal wrote: “Glenn Youngkin, co-chief executive of Carlyle, is serving as chairman of the new public charity, dubbed the Virginia Ready Initiative, or VA Ready, which aims to retrain out-of-work Virginia residents with the skills they need for high-demand jobs and to connect them with employment opportunities.”


One can imagine few organizations right now with a more vitally important mission. As Wall Street revels in a financially leveraged euphoria, unemployment numbers remain ominously high for increasingly ignored sectors of our economy: middle- and lower-income families, as well as small and mid-sized businesses, the demographics most endangered by the economic fallout of Covid-19. It’s a familiar story: Main Street continues to tumble far behind Wall Street in our top-heavy economy.

Here’s how Virginia Ready is fighting back:

Anyone who enrolls in the program will receive free training for a new and potentially lucrative career, will be able to network with companies seeking to fill jobs and will be given a $1,000 bonus up front. The program has joined the state community college’s Fast Forward Initiative, striving to give enrollees a crash course in vital job skills in six to twelve weeks. 

 The $1,000 bonus is merely an incentive to get discouraged workers to enroll in one of 17 occupational seminars. As the Richmond Free Press reports, this coursework is based on the needs of existing companies that can’t find enough skilled workers to fill all of their openings. (This is the fulcrum of the whole program and why it’s such a promising development.) These careers range from computer network support to information security to medical support, as well as welding and advanced manufacturing. Enrolling in the Virginia Ready Initiative is almost a ticket to guaranteed employment. 

 Classes began in August. 

Youngkin gave his wife Suzanne credit for this initiative. She deserves the recognition. Already in the spring, she was thinking about the economic future of millions who would soon be unemployed. As of March last year, almost a million Virginians had already filed initial claims for unemployment. So, yes, the writing was on the wall. But her idea is for the long-term future, not just the pandemic. More on that in a moment. 

In his leadership of the Carlyle Group, Youngkin was in charge of infrastructure investments. He knew what to look for, and he recognized that Virginia has the systems already in place to deliver skilled workers to desperate companies. He told the Free Press that Virginia also had a sufficient number of robust businesses to ensure that those who enrolled in the coursework would be hired right there in the state. 

“Too many Virginians have lost their jobs, and they deserve help to retool for in-demand jobs,” he said. “What we want to do is provide thousands of people with the right credentials to fill the jobs that are available.” 

So, enrollment is, in reality, free. The classes cost around $2,400 but the state will cover two-thirds of the fee, leaving the $1,000 bonus to cover the rest, with a bit leftover. Community colleges also offer scholarships and private support, so the students could most likely save all of the bonus. Contrast this to the tuition being charged now at most colleges and universities.

Twenty businesses have donated a total of $10 million to fund the program’s ongoing budget and provide a fund of bonuses for at least 5,000 trainees this year and 5,000 next year. 

When it fully ramps up, Youngkin expects Virginia Ready to distribute 7,500 bonuses per year. 

If you multiply that number times the number of states in the union, you realize that this should not be a one-off initiative. It ought to become a franchise. With the sort of largesse flowing into the coffers of hundreds of major corporations this year, especially in the financial sector, CEOs in these companies should recognize Glenn Younkin as a role model. Virginia Ready could be a bellwether for identical programs that would be simple to kickstart with a $10 million grant in their own states. Do the math: if duplicated in every state of the nation that’s 390,000 displaced workers put back to work every year. In only a few years, we could be re-employing millions, building back our economy with a sustainable system that would zero in on one of the great weaknesses in our economy, the lack of targeted training for skilled jobs that have been going unfilled even in the best of economies. 

If Virginia Ready works as intended, we’ll have a scalable model for the private sector to use as a kind of advanced trade school system. In it, everyone who enrolls is nearly guaranteed a career when they’re done—only three months later. And it’s free. If only our colleges and universities could promise the same.  It’s time for dozens of other CEOs who recognize the need and see the opportunity to duplicate what Younkin has done in Virginia. If this concept could move from idea to reality in only a few months in Virginia, it can happen all across the country just in time for people to get back to work as Covid-19 recedes. The time to act is now.

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