Lisa Ventriss: Courage to Change

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Lisa Ventriss, of South Burlington, who is the president of the Vermont Business Roundtable, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of private and nonprofit employers.

Early in my time at the Vermont Business Roundtable (Roundtable) we authored a report titled Having the Courage to Change; it targeted our state’s looming workforce crisis. That was 2006. Children who were entering kindergarten that year are now graduating from high school and the workforce crisis is no longer looming. As every employer knows, it’s here. And last week, a second major credit rating agency downgraded Vermont’s bond rating, citing the state’s aging population and shrinking workforce.

The Roundtable has been sounding the alarm for years about the workforce crisis and, frankly, we’ve moved from crisis mode into action. Though the workforce crisis surrounds us, the opportunity to invest in solutions is also within reach. And one of those solutions is high-quality child care.

In late June, I attended the BUILD conference in New Orleans, which convened national partners dedicated to ensuring high-quality standards within the early care and learning field. I was pleased to join partners at Let’s Grow Kids to present on successful strategies to engage the business community in support of a high-quality child care system. Across the country, states are taking creative approaches — and, though no one has definitive answers, nevertheless, innovations abound. I left energized and recommitted; convinced that a high-quality child care system is fundamental to ensuring a strong, stable workforce in Vermont, and that Vermont’s size, structure, and strengths position us uniquely to lead the nation in this effort.

Our timeless Having the Courage to Change report noted that early childhood education plays a crucial role in supporting the state’s economy. And rather than allow this fact to sit dormant for another decade, it’s time to acknowledge the inter-relationship of child care and our workforce crisis.

If you know a parent of a young child, then you know their struggles to access affordable high-quality care; struggles that directly impact our businesses and sometimes contribute to the declining workforce. When parents leave stable employment because they cannot find or afford high-quality child care, positions remain open and productivity decreases. Child care doesn’t just give children the ability to succeed, it provides employers with the necessary infrastructure to support parents’ return to work and ability to contribute to a thriving economy.

Vermont business leaders are innovators and problem solvers and they are ready to lead on this issue. We believe that education equals opportunity for children and that investing in our Birth to Five system is the best way to ensure future success for every Vermont child. This year, the Roundtable joined advocates at the Legislature, at statewide budget hearings, and in other public venues to support policy efforts to make high-quality child care affordable and accessible for every Vermont family. When a new legislative session begins in January, we look forward to partnering with Let’s Grow Kids to capitalize on our previous efforts and explore new solutions. We invite all Vermont businesses to join us.

Click here to read this commentary on VTDigger.org.