VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia thinks an increased focus on workforce training will help fill jobs in a “extraordinary” economy.
The son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been on the job since September, and visited both Norfolk and Virginia Beach on Monday to tour the STIHL Incorporated manufacturing facility, Virginia Career Works and hold a round table with area business leaders.
While he touted America’s 3.5 percent unemployment rate under President Donald Trump, Scalia conceded it comes with its issues.
“We’ve got about 7 million vacant jobs and about 6 million people looking for them,” Scalia said during a press conference at STIHL’s Virginia Beach plant.
The secretary points to “training” as the main obstacle. He said part of his visit Monday was to commend STIHL for signing onto a new pledge pushed by the president.
“This is a request to businesses to pledge to create job training opportunities, education opportunities for workers,” Scalia said. There are 430 companies across the country that have signed on.
He also acknowledged another issue that leaves job vacancies open: criminal records and substance abuse.
Hampton Roads Transit has told 10 On Your Side on numerous occasions that potential bus drivers have been disqualified after failing drug tests and physicals.
“It’s keeping some talented, able-bodied people on the sidelines of the workforce,” Scalia said. “I think as we look to develop the workforce, further addressing the opioid crisis and other drug use problems is another very important thing we can do.”
He said companies should also recognize the the value that can be brought to the workforce from people that have been through the criminal justice system, and served their time and are now ready to engage in the workplace.
However, his advice for Virginia also touched on what not to do.
Currently, a bill introduced in the House of Delegates would repeal Virginia’s “Right to Work” law. It currently allows employees to avoid joining unions in the state, even if there is one present where they work.
“I believe, the president believes, and I think there is extensive evidence that the strong economy we have right now came about through job cuts and reducing the burdens on businesses,” Scalia said. “This does not strike me as a time where it makes sense to put a large number of new regulatory requirements on employers.”