Workforce Quality

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Workforce Quality

Overall, Virginia boasts one of the best-educated and most productive workforces in the country. However, some regions have low levels of educational attainment, and the state lags behind in providing workers for middle-skills employment.

Why is This Important?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 90.9 percent of Virginia adults had at least a high school diploma in 2015. However, in today's dynamic economy, jobs increasingly require education or credentials beyond high school. No matter what form additional education takes -- a 4-year college degree, a 2-year degree or certificate from a community college, or a technical education certificate earned while in high school -- it not only prepares individuals for the tasks required by a job, but also enhances their ability to adapt to new working environments. Demand for skilled workers is high and expected to increase rapidly in the future.

How is Virginia Doing?

Virginia has been successful in producing and, in most years, attracting college-educated workers. As a result, it has a remarkably well-educated labor force with a high percentage of baccalaureate and higher degree holders. It employs a higher percentage of people in science and engineering occupations than any other state in the nation.

On the other hand, Virginia has a relatively low number of workers with credentials, such as associate's degrees, that are suitable for middle-skilled positions -- those jobs which require some training or education beyond high school, but not a 4-year college degree. In addition, low levels of educational attainment can be found among large segments of the population in some regions of the state.

College-educated Worker Migration

Total in-out migration of college-educated adults in Virginia. See text for explanation.Every state sees continual population migration -- people moving in to live, people moving out to live elsewhere. The migratory flow of college-educated adults in a state can vary in response to regional economic conditions and the relative size of its higher-education sector. In recent years, Virginia has usually benefited from a net influx of college-educated adults from across the nation.

In 2015, there were 84,427 college-educated adult in-migrants compared to 86,810 out-migrants in Virginia -- another year of negative migration flow, and the second since 2012; previous years (2009-2011 and 2013) had been positive.

Net migration rate for college-educated adults in Virginia. See text for explanation.Viewed another way, Virginia's net migration rate of college-educated adults was -1.1 per 1,000 residents in 2015, which ranked 24th among US states. This negative rate was lower than peer state Maryland (-2.4), but significantly worse than Tennessee (6.3) and North Carolina (11.4). The leading state was Nevada, with 18.1 college-educated workers per 1,000 residents moving there in 2015. (The domestic net migration rate for the United States is, by definition, zero.)

Educational Attainment

The table below illustrates the highest level of education for adults age 25 to 64 in 2015 and includes the leading state for each level. For example, West Virginia is the national leader for adults whose highest level of education is a high school diploma, while North Dakota leads for having the fewest adults with no high school completion at all.

Virginia ranked fourth in the nation for the most graduate or professional degrees (16.1%) and ninth for the most bachelor's degrees (22.9%). Nationally, 11.5 percent of the population had a graduate or professional degree and 20.4 percent had a bachelor's degree.

Highest Level of Education for Adults Age 25-64, 2015
State Less than High School High School Some College Associate's Bachelor's Grad/Prof
U.S. (average) 11.7% 26.3% 21.2% 9.0% 20.4% 11.5%
Virginia 9.1%
(rank 26th)
(rank 43rd)
(rank 40th)
(rank 39th)
(rank 9th)
(rank 4th)
Alaska 6.5% 27.7% 27.9% - Leader 8.3% 19.2% 10.4%
West Virginia 10.9% 40.4% - Leader 19.9% 7.9% 13.1% 7.8%
North Dakota 4.9% - Leader 25.5% 22.8% 15.0% - Leader 23.5% 8.2%
Colorado 8.4% 20.9% 21.9% 8.8% 26.0% - Leader 14.0
Massachusetts 8.1% 23.4% 16.3% 8.1% 25.2% 18.9% - Leader
North Carolina 11.9% 24.9% 22.2% 10.0% 20.3% 10.6%
Tennessee 11.7% 32.5% 21.1% 7.5% 17.5% 9.8%
Maryland 9.1% 24.0% 19.7% 6.9% 22.6% 17.8%

Peer state Maryland ranked higher than Virginia for graduate or professional degrees, with 17.8 percent, while Massachusetts led the nation in these (18.9%). Colorado was first for bachelor's degrees (26.0%).

Virginia's achievement was considerably lower for sub-baccalaureate degrees that prepare workers for middle-skill jobs such as electricians, plumbers, and many types of computer work. In 2015, 8.1 percent of Virginia's workforce had an associate's degree, ranking the state 39th and below the national average of 9.0 percent. Among peer states, North Carolina was higher at 10.0 percent, while Tennessee (7.5%) and Maryland (6.9%) were lower.

In addition, 9.1 percent of Virginia's workforce-aged adults lacked a high school diploma – the 26th highest (worst) among the 50 states. North Dakota was the lowest at 4.9 percent. The percentage of Virginia's population without a diploma was lower than North Carolina (11.9%) and Tennessee (11.7%), and the same as Maryland (9.1%). The national average was 11.7 percent.

Educational Attainment by Virginia Region, 2009-2013. See text for explanation.Within Virginia, rural regions have the highest percentage of people without diplomas; although these numbers are steadily declining, it creates a serious impediment to economic growth. In 2011-2015, the percentage of adults with less than a high school diploma was 16.1 percent in the Southside region, 15.7 percent in the Southwest region, 12.5 percent in the Valley region, and 12.4 percent in the Eastern region. Conversely, these same regions also have the lowest percentages of residents with 4-year college and post-college degrees.

STEM Workforce

STEM Associate's Degrees Awarded, by State. See text for explanation.Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) occupations are among the most lucrative and are widely considered a bellweather for a state's or nation's ability to innovate and keep competitive pace in a dynamic global economy. In Virginia, universities and colleges are the largest source of entrants into the STEM workforce. On a population-adjusted basis, Virginia awarded 51 associate’s degrees in STEM fields per 100,000 residents in 2016, compared to 37 per 100,000 residents nationwide. Virginia’s rate was sixth highest in the nation and higher than peer states North Carolina and Maryland (28) and Tennessee (21). The nation’s highest 2-year STEM degree rate was found in Arizona, with 98 per 100,000 residents.

STEM Bachelor's Degrees or Higher Awarded, by State. See text for explanation.Virginia also awarded 198 STEM field bachelor’s (and higher) degrees per 100,000 residents in 2015, ranking it 20th highest in the nation, compared to a national average of 180 degrees. Massachusetts was the leading state with 340 STEM degrees per 100,000 residents. Among peer states, Virginia was lower than Maryland (257), but higher than North Carolina (161) and Tennessee (119).

Percent of Workforce in Science and Engineering. See text for explanation.Because of Virginia's strength in knowledge-intensive industries, the state has a high percentage of skilled workers. In 2014 the Commonwealth again ranked first in the nation for the percentage of its workforce  -- 7.5 percent -- in science and engineering (S&E) occupations. Maryland's percentage of workers in S&E was 7.4 percent, while North Carolina (4.5%) and Tennessee (3.2%) were lower than the national average of 4.7 percent.

Worker Productivity

Worker productivity, defined as output per worker, is another measure of workforce quality. Unlike educational attainment, which captures the inputs into workforce quality, worker productivity measures the average output of workers. High labor productivity has traditionally resulted in higher standards of living, although this pattern hasn't held in recent decades.

Worker Productivity by State. See text for explanation.

Virginia's productivity mirrored the national average until the late 1990s, when the state started growing more rapidly. In 2015, Virginia's output-per-worker value -- $85,314 -- was higher than the national average of $84,246 (adjusted in year 2009 dollars; see Data Sources note). Virginia ranked 13th among all the states. North Carolina ($77,578), and Tennessee ($72,536) had lower rates of productivity than Virginia, while Maryland ($90,718) was again higher. Alaska ($105,971) was the leading state for worker productivity in 2015.

Career and Technical Skills and Training

Interest in and support for career and technical education has been growing in recent years. Many Virginia high schools now offer students the chance to prepare for certain careers by completing technical education programs before they graduate. Students may earn state licenses, qualify for industry certifications, and pass National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) or Workplace Readiness Skills (WRS) assessments. In the 2014-15 school year, Virginia high schools granted a total of 128,820 such awards -- up from 103,599 the previous year -- with industry certifications accounting for most of the increase.

Total Career and Technical Education Credentials Earned, by Virginia Region. See text for explanation.Attainment of workforce credentials has generally been rising rapidly among Virginia's regions since 2010; in 2015, only the Valley region saw a decline. The Southwest region produced the highest number of career and technical education certifications or assessments: 191 per 10,000 residents, followed by the Hampton Roads region at 160 and the Southside region at 159. The West Central region produced the fewest certifications or assessments with 135 per 10,000 residents in 2015. The state average was 154 per 10,000 residents.

Career Readiness Certificates Earned, by State. See text for explanation.A Career Readiness Certificate (CRC) is a portable, assessment-based credential that gives employers and certificate holders a uniform measure of key workplace skills. Individuals seeking a CRC credential must pass tests in Applied Mathematics, Locating Information, and Reading for Information -- skills commonly required across the workplace spectrum. CRCs are typically more popular in states or regions where fewer residents go on to attain postsecondary education.

Career Readiness Certificates Earned in Virginia. See text for explanation.National data indicates that an average of 81.3 career readiness certificates per 10,000 residents have been issued to Virginians since the certificate began to be offered in 2004. This certification rate is just shy of the national average of 82.0 per 10,000 residents and ranks 21st in the nation. Among peer states, North Carolina (252.9) and Tennessee (152.0) were considerably higher, while Maryland (0.4) was markedly lower. Alaska led the nation with 505 CRCs per 10,000 residents.

Career Readiness Certificates Earned by Virginia Region. See text for explanation.The number of Career Readiness Certificates issued in Virginia has grown significantly since 2008, but stabilized across 2012-2014 and even declined in 2015, when just 9,393 CRCs were issued. Among Virginia's regions, the Southside issued the most CRCs per 10,000 residents in 2015 (48), followed by the Southwest region (30). The Northern (2) and Hampton Roads (4) regions issued the fewest. The state average was 10 certificates per 10,000 residents.

What Influences Workforce Quality?

A skilled workforce is an indicator of both the presence of industries that need them and a measure of a state's ability to educate or attract top-notch workers. Thus, workforce quality can be improved both by investing in education and training and by creating a business-friendly environment that attracts knowledge-intensive businesses and responds to their workforce needs.

However, education isn't the only pathway to a skilled, well-paid workforce or to improvements in regional economies. Of the 1.4 million projected job openings in Virginia over the next 10 years, a majority will not require a college degree, but specialized training that leads to a work-related credential. Many of these jobs will also pay significantly more than the average wage level.

What is the State's Role?

Virginia's greatest contribution thus far to workforce readiness is in the more than 68,000 degrees that are produced in its public colleges and universities every year. In addition, over 80,000 Career Readiness Certificates, which certify individual employability skills, have been awarded by community colleges and one-stop employment centers since the program began in 2004. Under the governor's leadership, the state has also embarked on an ambitious program to produce an additional 50,000 STEM-H credentials by 2018.

The state can further help create a high-quality workforce through a variety of means. Virginia has already commenced or plans to engage in most of the following:

  • Better match employers and workers by providing accessible information about job skill requirements; education and training programs; and current and projected job opportunities, compensation expectations, and the like
  • Serve as a coordination point between employers and government agencies involved in both workforce and economic development to help ensure that residents can accumulate the skills, credentials, and degrees needed for ongoing career progress
  • Help employers and the business community navigate available government programs and ensure that students and job seekers gain the necessary skills to meet market demand
  • Continue to invest in education and training
  • Expand opportunities for work-based learning experiences, such as vocational education, apprenticeships, and employer-based training
  • Provide career transition services and fast-tracked training for military veterans to prepare them for civilian jobs
  • Assist disabled, dislocated, senior, and socially disadvantaged workers in getting counseling, training, and job-placement and job-retention services through programs accessible via Virginia's One-Stop Workforce Centers
  • Create a good business environment, provide sensible economic incentives, and forge industry partnerships to foster the economic vitality needed to create new job opportunities for all

For a more detailed look at Virginia's efforts to boost workforce development and quality, check out the Virginia Workforce System Report Card.

Page last modified June 05, 2017

State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.

Data Definitions and Sources

Net Migration of College-educated Workers
U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, Tables B07009 and B07409, 1-Year Estimates,
Total domestic in-migration shows the college-educated population 25 years of age and over that moved into Virginia from other states in a given year. Domestic out-migration shows the college-educated population 25 years of age and over that moved to a different state in a given year.

NOTE: The net migration rate shows the number of net college-educated migrants 25 years and older per 1,000 college educated residents 25 years and older. It is calculated as (I-E)/P*1,000 where I is number of state college-educated in-migrants 25 years and older, E is the number of state college educated out-migrants 25 years and older, and P is the average state college educated population 25 years of age and over in the reference year (Pi) and the previous year (Pi-1).

Educational Attainment
American Community Survey (ACS), U.S. Census, 2011-2015. State figures are based on ACS 1-year estimates, while regional figures are based on ACS 5-year estimates.

STEM Degrees Awarded
STEM degrees are defined using the STEM-Designated Degree Program List (pdf) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Degree data are from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Completions (C) and Institutional Characteristics (IC) files:

The first six years were revised release files and 2014-2015 was a provisional release file. All institutional awards are counted (first and second degrees). Two degree levels are computed: (1) associate's, (2) bachelor's and above (bachelor's, master's, doctorate, and first-professional degrees only). First-professional degrees are degrees that are required to start practice in a profession and require at least six academic years of total college work.
Institutional awards other than degrees are not counted (e.g., certificates).
Degrees are computed for public, private non-profit, and private for-profit institutions. Institutions are associated with a state based on legal address information (state abbreviation) from the IPEDS Institutional Characteristics (IC) file.

Middle Skill Gap
The National Skills Coalition, Virginia Fact Sheet (pdf)

S&E Occupations
National Science Foundation, Science and Engineering Indicators, 2016

S&E occupations are defined by 77 standard occupational codes that encompass mathematical, computer, life, physical, and social scientists; engineers; and post-secondary teachers in any of these S&E fields. People with job titles such as manager are excluded. Because of this difference and the sample-based nature of the data, estimates for sparsely populated states and the District of Columbia may be imprecise.

NOTE: The District of Columbia has been omitted from the chart. The District of Columbia is an outlier with 10.2 percent in S&E occupations, but this is partly due to a high percentage of people working in or with the federal government.

Worker Productivity
Calculations based on gross domestic product and employment data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (; dollars are measured in terms of 2009 chained dollars. The District of Columbia is excluded in the state rankings. 

High School Credentialing
Virginia Department of Education, Office of Career and Technical Education, High School Industry Credentialing

Career and technical education programs are, on average, two-year programs designed to train technicians, semiprofessional workers, apprentices, and skilled trades workers for employment in industry, business, the professions, and government. Such programs are offered in a number of fields from agriculture to health and medicine.

Career Readiness Certificate (CRC)
The Career Readiness Certificate is counted as a national industry certification within the Virginia Department of Education's Career and Technical Industry Certifications category.

States: Career Readiness Consortium,
Regions: Virginia Community College System (VCCS),
NOTE: Federal Fiscal Year (October 1 to September 30)

See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.

At a Glance:
Workforce Quality in Virginia

Performance Trend:  Trend is improving!
State Influence:  

National Ranking: Various sources measure and rank different aspects of state workforce quality. Virginia overall has an impressive number of highly skilled and educated workers -- but lags behind in providing workers for middle-skill jobs not requiring a college degree. There are also significant disparities in skills and educational achievement among the state's regions.

Related Agency Measures
State Programs & Initiatives

Virginia's Workforce System Report Card establishes goals and measures for assessing the performance of the system in educating and training a well-skilled and well-qualified workforce throughout the Commonwealth. The report card tracks outcomes in STEM-H and other workforce credentials, college and career readiness, business and employment development, and special populations (including veterans, at-risk youth, and GED students).

The Virginia Jobs Investment Program provides customized recruiting and training services to companies that are creating new jobs or implement technological upgrades. In the last five years, the program has helped 2,439 companies recruit and train 75,660 Virginians.

The EleVAte website is a portal to Virginia's workforce development system, which serves both residents and Virginia businesses in addressing their career and employment needs. Key services include an array of one-stop career centers across the state that work to train and find jobs for local residents as part of a mandate under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act.

The Office of Workforce Development Services helps community colleges align education with economic development by preparing a skilled labor force. Community colleges serve more than 700 employers and more than 130,000 individuals in open enrollment and customized workforce training and services.

Run by the Virginia Department for Veterans Services,Virginia Values Veterans (V3) helps employers recruit, hire, train, and retain veterans as valued employees. Governor McAuliffe has also called on 10,000 businesses throughout Virginia to take "the Patriot Pledge" to hire veterans into the workforce.

Open Data, Open Jobs is an open data site that aggregates information on publicly available job openings into one shared resource for use by developers.

Additional Information

Under his New Virginia Economy plan (pdf), Governor McAuliffe has outlined strategies to streamline the state's multi-player workforce development system and called for Virginians to earn an additional 50,000 STEM-H credentials, certifications, licensures, apprenticeships and associate's degrees to meet current and projected industry needs.