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Funding eyed for workforce programs

When the Virginia Tobacco Commission meets Thursday in Bristol, it will vote on funding two projects for the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center aimed at developing more than 200 workforce ready individuals in the advanced manufacturing and welding fields.

According to Dr. Betty Adams, executive director of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, the center has applied for $711,583 for an advanced manufacturing boot camp and $20,886 to pay tuition for welding workforce training in the county.

Tobacco commission committee members have recommended $163,750 be funded for the boot camp, and the full $20,886 be funded for tuition assistance for welding workforce training, Adams said Tuesday.

Dr. Nettie Simon-Owens, director of workforce services at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center and an appointee on Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Rural Jobs Council, plans to attend Thursday’s tobacco commission meeting to support the two grants.


Advanced manufacturing boot-camp

The Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, in partnership with the Virginia Manufacturers Association, Virginia Industry Foundation and ECPI University proposes to carry out the advanced manufacturing “boot-camp” that will annually produce 209 workforce-ready participants equipped with entry-level skills as well as career pathways mapped to fill skills gap areas identified as precision machining, welding and industrial machinery maintenance. 

The grant would focus funds on 80 participants for the Work Ready and Manufacturing Technician Lab at a cost of $163,750 that also includes a part-time position at the center to administer the programs.

According to the grant application, program participants will be certified as proficient and “work ready” for entry-level employment in Southern and Southwest Virginia. 

The boot-camp will utilize an existing national curriculum from the Manufacturing Skills Institute and complement existing providers. 

According to the application, in the future CCAM member companies and their suppliers, will be considering Virginia as a site for locating and expanding advanced manufacturing facilities. These factories will use innovative automated manufacturing technologies to produce components for aerospace gas turbine engines, naval ships, cutting tools, etc. 

In addition, the Boston Consultant Group “Developing an Advanced Manufacturing Workforce for Virginia’s Tobacco Region” (January 2013) report identifies three target manufacturing industries -- aerospace, automotive and heavy machinery -- to recruit and expand in the tobacco region to complement the current CCAM member companies. 

In order to create a “ready” and “adaptable” workforce for advanced manufacturing across the entire tobacco region, the Manufacturing Skills Institute which is composed of Southern Virginia Higher Education in partnership with the Virginia Manufacturers Association, Virginia Industry Foundation and ECPI University (ECPI), propose to implement a coordinated process to deliver existing workforce education and training programs that measure and document core work ready skills, measure and document manufacturing knowledge and competencies and provide a practical “hands-on” manufacturing technology immersion experience. 

The advanced manufacturing boot-camp will benefit the entire tobacco region by providing standardized training and experience for preparing and certifying a work-ready workforce for manufacturing in Southern and Southwest Virginia, the grant application states. 

The boot-camp is a coordinated process to integrate existing foundational skills training offered by multiple educational institutions including community colleges, higher education centers and four-year institutions. 

Boot-camp completers will have the skills needed to compete in existing and emerging technology-intensive production facilities. Boot-camp training scholarships provided by the tobacco commission will provide the financial assistance necessary for at least 150 individuals of the 300 boot-camp enrollees targeted for workforce training.

Every effort will continue to be made to include Southern Virginia community colleges including Danville Community College, Central Virginia Community College, John Tyler Community College, Patrick Henry Community College and Southside Virginia Community College in the delivery of boot-camp training programs, according to the grant application. However, boot-camp success is not dependent upon community college participation.  

After reviewing the grant application last week, tobacco commission staff recommended award of $163,750 that includes student tuition assistance and the part-time higher education center administrative position.


Workforce training welding program

The original request of $175,000 has been reduced to $20,886 to bring workforce training in welding to Halifax County, where none is currently available. 

The grant funds will be used to modify existing space at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center to house the newly-developed workforce training welding program and to provide tuition assistance to students. 

The project also will leverage existing resources in the form of infrastructure and equipment, allowing the center to meet the increasing regional demand for technical training services, especially welding and make National Center for Construction Education and Research standardized training programs available in Halifax County, according to the funding application.

The U.S. welding workforce currently numbers 500,000, and demand for welders is projected to grow over the next decade. 

More than 50 percent of U.S. industries report difficulties locating qualified welders, and 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 here is strong due to growth in industries such as construction, energy production and manufacturing, according to Adams. 

Currently, Halifax County residents must drive 45 minutes or further to access welding training, 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 NCCER certification, to customized short-term trainings for industry, she explained. 

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 inaugural cohort of 12 students could complete the welding training program within 18 months, preparing them to take NCCER and American Welding Society certification exams. 

With a new cohort entering each year, Adams said it is anticipated 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. 

The welding equipment requested in this proposal was funded by the Southside Economic Development Committee in May, leaving the final element of this proposal – scholarships for the first cohort of students – as the remaining request.  

Virginia Technical Institute of Altavista has agreed to provide the NCCER training curriculum at South Boston.