Virginia Ready kicked off the September 2022 Skilled Trades Talent Task Force with a review of The Aging of the Manufacturing Workforce, a whitepaper published by The Manufacturing Institute. Executive Director Natalie Foster explained how manufacturing firms are concerned about brain drain (i.e., the loss of institutional and technical knowledge), competing for human capital in their communities in a very tight labor market. According to the article, companies that successfully deal with the aging of their workforce are forming apprenticeship programs to pass on knowledge and promote upskill opportunities for current employees. This set the stage for discussing career pathway solutions for credentialed VA Ready Scholars in the skilled trades industry. The agenda included perspectives on this issue from two community colleges and an employer, then time was left for a group discussion to gather insights from attendees on hiring barriers specific to the industry.
Virginia Ready supports 14 programs within the skilled trades industry including welding, HVAC, and CDL-A, among others. This month’s Talent Task Force brought together VA Ready’s educational and business partners to talk about their latest successes and struggles in the industry, and how Virginia Ready can collaborate with them to bridge the gap between training and family-sustaining employment for VA Ready Scholars.
Tidewater Community College Skilled Trades Academy
Tidewater Community College’s Laura Hanson, Associate Vice President for Workforce, and Michael Vander Werf, Skilled Trades Program Manager, gave a presentation about their Skilled Trades Academy. The program offers training labs for carpentry, forklift operation, maritime trades, plumbing, roofing, and welding. These programs are so popular that the college is running out of space, and the demand continues to increase. According to Hanson, employers across a variety of industries are actively recruiting students enrolled in these programs, even prior to completion. However, once recruited, students are encouraged by both the college and the employer to complete their credential.
In order to meet the needs of local shipyards, Tidewater is expanding its programs in marine welding for 2022, with advanced marine welding classes this year and more ship fitter classes coming soon Marine Trade Training students are encouraged to also take programs like forklift operator and OSHA 10 in order to prepare them for the varying duties often associated with welding in a shipyard.
Laurel Ridge Community College Trades and Heavy Equipment Program
Donna Comer, Laurel Ridge Community College’s Trades and Heavy Equipment Program Manager, gave an overview of its programs which include HVAC, plumbing, electrical, heavy equipment operator, and construction project manager.
Laurel Ridge focuses on offering classes based on their local workforce needs to train talent for jobs in their community. Roughly 25% of those employed in the Laurel Ridge service district perform duties related to the construction trades industry.
Most of these careers offer upward mobility through stackable credentials allowing for advancement as employees gain experience. Laurel Ridge works with local business partners hiring for many heavy equipment operator jobs which offer pathways from general laborers all the way up to civil engineers. The skilled trades program faculty are often able to draw upon their own career experiences to help students envision their future.
Laurel Ridge’s short-burst classes are designed to be completed in six months or less so students can enter the workforce within weeks rather than years. Class offerings include evening and hybrid classes for flexibility. Credentials earned are also nationally recognized, so they can be used wherever a student’s journey may take them.
Thanks to strong industry partnerships, affordability, and accessibility of the programs, Laurel Ridge is developing a new trades building to support the immense growth in interest for trade jobs.
Attracting and Retaining Talent
Ed Dalrymple, owner and manager of Chemung Contracting Corporation, didn’t always have the best sources for funneling in new employees. Research led him to Germanna Community College courses that met his workforce needs, so he developed a relationship with the school to connect him with new talent. In order to better prepare its future workforce, Dalrymple’s corporation has also developed apprenticeship programs and soft skills courses that are essential in the industry, like conflict resolution and time management.
“When you’re able to connect students with the right people, the right schools, and the right companies, you can change lives,” said Dalrymple.
The most important thing is for businesses to develop relationships with community colleges in their area based on their needs. These relationships save employers time and money when recruiting and training their workforce.
Plus, to combat brain drain, employers can refer their retirees to community colleges in search of instructors. Their real-world experience can make a dramatic difference in the quality of training for the next generation.
One of VA Ready’s focuses is working to break down hiring barriers to better prepare Scholars for entering the workforce. For that reason, each Talent Task Force includes time for partners to discuss any barriers present for the industry being discussed. Some hiring barriers mentioned by educational and business partners present at the meeting included the following:
- Resume work: especially within skilled trades, students often need help translating their past experiences and education into marketable, transferable skills on paper
- Interview practice
- Government contract requirements
Virginia Ready hosts Talent Task Force meetings by industry each quarter. This exchange of information and sharing of best practices informs how VA Ready helps scholars reskill and upskill for thousands of in-demand roles across the Commonwealth of Virginia in close partnership with our valued Business Partners and Education Partners. Thanks again to all who attended our meeting, helping Virginians jumpstart their careers, and enhance their skills in the field.