With Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently signing legislation that will pay for two-thirds of the cost of professional certificate programs for people seeking skilled blue-collar work, area business-oriented organizations are cheering the coming opportunities.
The state budget provides about $20 million in the 2016-2018 biennium for the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant Fund and Program, according to McAuliffe’s office.
The budget sets aside $12.5 million for tuition, $6 million to pay for equipment needed by career and technical education programs and $1.5 million to build an online portal to help build outreach to veterans.
Grants are available only for non-credit workforce programs, such as training for welders, electricians, plumbers and HVAC technicians, said Elizabeth Creamer, adviser for workforce development in Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade’s office.
Exact details of who will be eligible for the program have not been entirely settled, Creamer said, but participation will not be tied to income.
“There is a skills gap, and we need to strive to fill these credentials,” Creamer said. “If you are a Virginian who is interested in this kind of work, this is a real opportunity.”
As skilled trade workers age and retire, said Valerie Palamountain, dean of workforce development at Piedmont Virginia Community College, their employers are having a hard time filling their shoes.
“By offering this kind of program, with the funding, we will be able to fill those roles,” she said.
For Timothy Hulbert, president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, the job openings leave Virginia with a simple choice.
“Those jobs could be filled in a number of ways. They could be filled with workers from here in the commonwealth, or they could come from outside the commonwealth,” he said. “The question is, how do we get our workforce ready, the folks who are here.”
Under the legislation, people who seek a credential will pay one-third of the tuition for their chosen program. The state promises to reimburse the organization providing the training for the other two-thirds.
If the trainee does not complete the program, state assistance is rescinded and they must pay the outstanding tuition.
“The magic here, the absolute magic, is that this is performance based,” Hulbert said. “If you do not get the certificate, you do not get the assistance.”
The grants do not apply to for-credit programs such as nursing degrees. Part of the plan, Creamer said, is to get adults who have lost jobs in other skilled industries back to work quickly.
“The training programs, in general, will be those that may take weeks or months to complete instead of years like college degrees,” she said. “They are also training programs that are more likely than college degree programs to be offered through schedules that work for job seeking adults, such as all-day training and other expedited training schedules.”
The funding should help foster a closer connection between employers and the Virginia Community College System, Palamountain said.
“If there is an employee need, the employers are going to be coming to us and saying we need this, we need this now and what can you provide,” she said. “To me, it is kind of connecting the dots.”
That relationship between the government and private industry caused heartburn for some Virginia lawmakers.
“If you are a conservative, you are supposed to be for a free market, where businessmen and women get together and make decisions on their own,” said Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, who voted against the program. “When you have government in the mix, there are different considerations.”
Because the training will target specific professions, Marshall said, the law will give some employers an unfair leg up.
“… some businesses will get taxpayer subsidized training that benefits your business and your business alone,” he said. “Joe’s Pizza Parlor is not going to get any training from this.”