ROANOKE, Va. - There's a big push to increase the number of certificates and degrees earned at Virginia community colleges. It's paying off for students who can get trained quickly for a number of needed fields.
Virginia's community colleges want to triple the number of credentials students earn by the year 2021, as most of the 1.5 million jobs Virginia needs to fill will require a postsecondary credential - an associates degree and a certification and/or licensure.
"I've been in and out of trades my whole life. Most recently I was a forklift driver," said Fred Trent, a Virginia Western student who is back in school to be welder. "The money was certainly appealing but I've missed a lot of opportunities in the past for lack of this skill and I see it as a way for me to advance myself in the areas that I'm already experienced with."
Welding is just one of the skills Virginia Western is bringing to students, on a compressed schedule. In just 16 weeks, Trent will graduate. It used to take two years.
"If you're changing careers you don't want to spend any more time than you have to because life still goes on. You still have bills to pay, you still have to eat," said Gary Young, Virginia Western associate professor who gets calls all the time looking from people to fill local jobs. "The welding program is very important for this area. We have a lot of welding jobs in this area whether you're a straight-up welder or a maintenance person."
Part of Virginia Western's mission is to meet the workforce demands for the region so employers don't have to look outside the area for qualified workers.
This is the second year of the "fast forward" program. Last year, 240 credentials were earned from 368 enrolled students. This year to date, 163 credentials have been earned from the 273 enrolled.
"There seems to be a huge gap between entry-level positions and the high-end positions. The fact is there are thousands and thousands of people in the areas that need to upscale and learn new skills to continue making progress in their career field," said Milan Hayward, Virginia Western Workforce Development Vice President.
The community college is also developing new Certified Medical Assistants classes after learning there was a need. The classes are all tailored to accommodate adult learners who are already working.
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