Vermont Community Loan Fund tapped to administer $15 million Career Technical Education program

Vermont Business Magazine Following the Vermont State Legislature’s $15 million dollar appropriation to establish a new revolving loan fund supporting educational workforce development, the Vermont Community Loan Fund has been selected by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) to develop and launch this new initiative.

The pool of funds will support the state’s 17 Career Technical Education (CTE) Centers located throughout Vermont. Known as the CTE Construction and Rehabilitation Experiential Learning Program and Revolving Loan Fund, the new fund will expand experiential and educational opportunities for high school and adult CTE students to learn building trades skills and work directly on construction projects.

“VCLF recognizes the growing need for workforce development throughout Vermont and all the industries doing business here,” said Loan Fund Executive Director Will Belongia.

He points to lack of support for Vermont’s building trades industry for slowing development of affordable housing, and development, construction and rehabilitation of community facilities and early care & learning programs. “The result has been rising prices, with many projects made less affordable or cost-ineffective,” he added.

The new fund will provide partially-forgivable, 0% interest financing to Vermont’s CTE centers, helping their building trades programs expand opportunities for high school and adult CTE students to work directly on construction projects; beautify communities and rehabilitate buildings that are underperforming assets; expand housing access to Vermonters; and improve property values while teaching high school and adult students trade skills.

Regional CTE programs will coordinate with VCLF, VHCB and other community partners, nonprofits, businesses and municipalities to identify projects providing community benefit as well as opportunities for workforce development.

In its role as fund administrator, the Loan Fund is responsible for program design, launch and evaluation, coordination with CTEs and community partners including non-profit housing developers, and financial management of projects.

High school and adult CTE learners will receive instruction in construction, electrical, plumbing, design and business management in classrooms and at building sites. Participating students will receive academic credit, competitive wages, or both, and the community will have a vibrant new home or community space.

“This is first and foremost an educational program, teaching skills that will lead to careers in building and construction that are well-compensated, careers offering salaries that are competitive with jobs requiring a college degree,” Belongia said.

As a secondary goal, the program hopes to help turn around Vermont’s deepening affordable housing deficit. Even prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Vermont’s affordable housing stock had already dipped to historic lows. Record levels of domestic migration to Vermont ever since have intensified what is now commonly described as a housing crisis.

Declining numbers of building trades workers have compounded the issue, with labor statistics showing the number of construction workers in Vermont in steady decline since the 2008 housing crash. The Associated General Contractors of America reported a drop of almost 25% in Vermont’s building trades workers between 2000 and 2010, while the state reports approximately 2,000 exiting the workforce every year due to retirement or other forms of attrition.

“Despite the availability of many quality jobs within the building trades sector, the supply of skilled workers remains a choke point for industry growth here,” Belongia said.

Limited housing also has a broader, ‘ripple’ effect: Vermont’s employers across all sectors can’t attract workers if workers can’t find housing.

Partners and stakeholders are hopeful that Vermont’s CTE students hold the key to unlocking the crisis; that the new fund can rebuild both Vermont’s workforce and make additions to its affordable housing stock. Increasing the workforce in the building trades could also potentially lower the cost of construction by creating greater labor supply.

“We all recognize the broader challenges Vermont faces. Whether it’s creation of good jobs and opportunity for young adults to retain or attract them to Vermont, or demand in our housing industry for building the trades workforce, these are all important,” Belongia said. “This program addresses these challenges.”

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