- Last Updated on 07:41 AM 05/06/13
- BY Paula I. Bryant
Workforce training in welding took one step closer to becoming a reality for Halifax County residents on Friday when the Research and Development arm of the Virginia Tobacco Commission approved a $154,114 request by the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.
Currently no such welding training exists in Halifax County with welding students having to travel to nearby community colleges or Virginia Technical Institute (VIT) in Altavista to take the classes.
Grant funds will be used to modify existing unfinished space in the outdoor classroom at the Innovation Center of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center to house the newly-developed workforce training welding program.
According to Dr. Betty Adams, executive director of the higher education center, construction on the welding classroom is expected to start in June and be complete by May of next year with the first welding students being admitted to class in August of 2014.
The welding program for Halifax County competed with 10 other applications this year to receive a portion of the remaining $641,098 in Southside Economic Development grant funds.
Adams traveled to Roanoke Thursday where the Southside Economic Development committee was meeting to consider the welding proposal.
The project, which is expected to go before the full tobacco commission for approval later this month, also will leverage existing resources in the form of infrastructure and equipment, allowing the higher education center to meet the increasing regional demand for technical training services, especially welding.
It will also make National Center for Construction Education and Research standardized training programs available in the county.
“I want people to recognize we’ve been around a long time and have grown tremendously,” Adams said from Roanoke Friday afternoon.
However, she added, people should know that we are now focused on offering programming and training that meets the specific and expressed needs of existing business and industry. This will allow us to prepare our workforce for jobs that exist today and in the future.
Working with the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce Executive Roundtable, the higher education center is attempting to fill gaps experienced in the county.
“Welding is one of the big skills gaps here. There are fantastic programs in adjacent counties, but nothing local and convenient for us. We are thrilled to now be able to offer this,” Adams said.
Letters of support were provided from five Halifax companies that employ welders and anticipate additional hiring in the near future including CCI (Comfort Systems), Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, Halifax Machine Shop, McDannald Construction Inc., Huber Engineered Woods and TMI Auto Tech, Inc.
The U.S. welding workforce currently numbers 500,000, and demand for welders is projected to grow over the next decade, she explained.
More than 50 percent of U.S. industries report difficulties locating qualified welders; this shortage is expected to worsen as researchers estimate that for every two welders retiring, only one is entering the workforce.
In the tobacco region, more than 1,400 people are employed in welding-related jobs. The need for welders is strong due to growth in industries such as construction, energy production and manufacturing.
Currently, Halifax County residents must drive 45 minutes or further to access welding training, which Adams said is a deterrent especially for working adults.
The welding training program will provide a range of training options in Halifax County, from the 18-month modular program leading to National Center for Construction Education and Research certification, to customized short-term trainings for industry.
Classes will be held in the 6-bay lab to be installed adjacent to the Advanced Machining Center and will be scheduled in the evenings and on weekends so as to accommodate working adults.
Should the modular welding training program expand to a larger facility in the future, the 6-bay lab will continue to be used to meet industry needs for short-term customized training and for overflow from the modular program.
The welding training program at the higher education center will be staffed by one instructor employed by Virginia Technical Institute. Three administrative staff persons and two accounting technicians employed by the higher education center will carry out the administrative and fiscal duties, she explained.
Within two years from the program start date, Adams said 12 welders will be available to fill demand indicated by local and regional businesses.
Over the next six years, Adams said she anticipates 18 new jobs will be created as a result of the welding program.
The inaugural cohort of 12 students could complete the welding training program within 18 months, preparing them to take National Center for Construction Education and Research and American Welding Society certification exams.
With a new cohort entering each year, the executive director anticipates at least 50 students will complete the welding training program within six years of the program start date and become employed in the Southern Virginia region.
This project will begin to move welders through the pipeline to meet employers’ needs now, Adams explained, and a trained welding workforce will help attract new industry to the county and region.
In addition, the grant applicants anticipate 10-15 regional incumbent workers will utilize the 6-bay welding lab for customized skills training annually and as interest warrants, and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center will enter into agreements with other education providers to use this space.
In recommending approval of the grant for the welding program, tobacco commission staff agreed the project appeared to align with education program objectives and the research and development committee’s stated focus on advanced manufacturing career training.