CHESTER and MIDLOTHIAN, Va. – Local employers regularly struggle to find qualified workers to fill critical manufacturing positions. Many of these jobs are middle-skill; they offer good pay and benefits and require some education beyond a high school diploma, but not a bachelor’s degree. Almost 60% of Virginia companies report a lack of qualified candidates to fill current and future manufacturing job vacancies.
A new public-private partnership between John Tyler Community College (JTCC) and Altria Group will help address this skills gap by building the college’s capacity to prepare students for these high-demand jobs. A $1.33 million grant from Altria to the JTCC Foundation will expand the college’s industrial electricity and mechanical maintenance programs, which offer students the option of earning a career studies certificate in a year or less, an associate degree, or both.
“We are thankful for Altria’s generous gift,” said Dr. Edward “Ted” Raspiller, president of JTCC. “This grant gives our college the resources needed to expand access, as well as enhance our programs that train people for high-demand jobs. We are also grateful for Altria’s ongoing partnership with John Tyler Community College. Collaborations such as ours are vital to the work we do at Tyler and support our efforts to empower people through education.”
Specifically, grant funding from Altria will allow Tyler to create and equip a second industrial electricity lab on its Chester Campus, as well as upgrade the equipment in its existing electrical lab. As a result, Tyler will have the capacity to serve 40-60 additional students per year in state-of-the art facilities.
With Altria’s support, the college will also upgrade the equipment in its mechanical maintenance lab and launch a new mechanical maintenance concurrent enrollment program, which will bring area high school students to campus for training. Those who complete the program earn a career studies certificate and are work ready by the time they graduate from high school. The grant provides scholarship funding for 20 – 30 high school students to participate in this program.
“We appreciate our partnership with John Tyler Community College and are eager to help the college expand its advanced manufacturing program with more courses and modernized training equipment,” said Sheila Freeman, vice president manufacturing, Philip Morris USA, an Altria company. “Skilled tradespeople like electrical technicians are highly sought-after in Virginia and nationally, including at Philip Morris USA. This investment will enable more people, including those seeking new career opportunities, to get the skills and credentials they need to fill these in-demand jobs.”
Data collected by the National Skills Coalition indicates that middle-skill occupations, which include the majority of jobs in the manufacturing industry, accounted for 49% of Virginia’s labor market in 2015; yet, only 39% of the Commonwealth’s workers were qualified to fill job openings.
“Manufacturing is facing a workforce crisis with about half a million manufacturing jobs going unfilled across the country today — and tens of thousands in Virginia alone — because there simply are not enough interested candidates with the right skills to fill them. This is why investments in manufacturing programs like those at John Tyler Community College are so important,” said Carolyn Lee, executive director of the Manufacturing Institute, part of the National Association of Manufacturers. “These programs are critical to getting more students interested in manufacturing careers by exposing them to the reality of modern manufacturing and they are vital to helping students actually get those jobs by providing the skills they need to do so.”
These investments and partnerships are key as community colleges like Tyler are increasingly recognized as a solution to preparing and connecting people to these in-demand jobs. And, with more than 75% of Tyler students staying in the community after college, private philanthropic investment in JTCC has a direct return for the local economy.
“On behalf of the Northam administration and the Commonwealth, I would like to thank both Altria and John Tyler Community College for collaborating on this exciting initiative,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy. “Their partnership will allow more Virginians to develop in-demand skills, supporting the growth of families, businesses, and our economy as a whole.”
The new mechanical maintenance equipment will be up and running for the spring 2019 semester. Tyler’s new industrial electricity lab and upgrades to the equipment in its existing electricity lab will be complete in August 2019, in time for the start of the college’s fall semester. The college also anticipates welcoming high school students into its new concurrent mechanical maintenance program in fall 2019.
The JTCC Foundation secures resources that provide scholarships for students; fund academic programs, student support services, capital projects, and renovations to modernize classrooms and labs; and stimulate innovation within the college faculty and staff. This work ensures the college continues its pledge of providing academic excellence to students while expanding the services it offers to meet the community’s workforce requirements.
John Tyler Community College offers more than 60 majors that provide pathways to careers in high-demand fields; transfer opportunities to four-year colleges and universities; and industry credentials and licensures. The college, with campuses in Chester and Midlothian, a Nursing Education Center, online classes, and off-campus classrooms, served more than 14,329 students during the 2017-18 academic year. It also assisted more than 7,000 learners through its workforce development division, Community College Workforce Alliance.