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Infrastructure Academy Created to Address Shortage of Skilled Labor : CEG

Thu August 18, 2022 – National Edition
Augusta Free Press & Lynchburg News & Advance

Virginia’s Community College system (VCCS), made up of 23 school across the commonwealth, introduced a new program to train thousands of workers to help rebuild the state’s aging roads and bridges and bring much needed upgrades to airports, ports and utilities statewide.

The Virginia Infrastructure Academy, or VIA, announced Aug. 11 that it will coordinate, scale up and replicate successful infrastructure-related community college training programs from other areas of the country, which now produce 4,000 graduates each year, with a goal of producing a total of 35,000 qualified workers over the next five years.

Virginia is set to receive at least $10 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden last November, with more funding expected to come through competitive grants and other measures.

Companies within the commonwealth already are struggling to fill more than 100,000 infrastructure jobs, the Augusta (Va.) Free Press reported.

“The availability of a trained, skilled workforce continues to stand out as a significant challenge to infrastructure construction and maintenance industries in the commonwealth,” Sharon Morrissey, interim chancellor of VCCS, explained in a statement. “Through the VIA initiative, we will continue to leverage resources, expand collaboration and provide short-term industry training and credentials leading to employment for thousands of Virginians.”

According to Morrissey, the VIA aligns community colleges with business leaders to ensure that existing training programs are addressing urgent community needs and identifying future requirements for expansion.

Among the programs are heavy construction and maintenance, focusing on road, bridge and tunnel building; broadband expansion; and on- and off-shore wind and solar energy infrastructure and distribution — all of which lead to high-paying jobs, and better career advancement opportunities, she said.

“This is vital to the success of many Virginia businesses,” noted Virginia Secretary of Labor George “Bryan” Slater. “Our infrastructure workforce demands are growing daily, and initiatives like the [VIA] will help ensure that skilled and qualified people are available for hire, leading to a best-in-class workforce in Virginia.”

Private Funding Also Boosting VIA’s Efforts

To give a financial lift to the VIA, the Lumina Foundation is funding the academy’s start-up costs with a two-year, $400,000 grant. The gift will support an initial review of existing infrastructure programs across Virginia’s community college system, a plan for program growth through in-person and virtual offerings, and outreach to potential students, according to a news release.

Lumina is an independent, private foundation, based in Indianapolis, Ind., that is committed to creating opportunities for students who want to learn beyond high school.

VCCS noted that people who choose to pursue training in a high-demand infrastructure field may find them to be among the most affordable options in higher education today..

Financial aid programs like FastForward and G3, among others, often allow students to pursue and complete these programs for little or no out-of-pocket costs, according to VCCS.

Students Need to Understand Their Options

Jason Ferguson, associate vice president of professional and career studies at Lynchburg’s Central Virginia Community College (CVCC), told the Lynchburg News & Advance that it is a matter of making sure students have information about VIA and its benefits.

“For CVCC, we have several programs that fall into this area such as electrical, welding, maintenance, solar, and other renewable energies, electrical vehicles and related programs there,” he said.

Ferguson added that CVCC will continue to try to meet the labor requirements of businesses as they are looking toward the future.

“As businesses let us know what those [wants] are, then it’s our job to try to figure out how to meet those training needs,” he noted.

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