A large black trailer with an emblem reading ‘Carter University’ sat along the main driveway at Williamsburg Christian Academy on Tuesday afternoon. Inside was one of the most state-of-the-art heavy construction equipment training simulators in the industry. Students shuffled into the trailer working the front end loader and excavator trainers like a new souped-up Xbox One video game. Why was this mobile facility on the WCA campus? The visit kicked off a look forward at the potential Workforce Readiness Training Program being explored for a potential launch at the school in Fall of 2020.
The demand for quality employees in technical trades has become a substantial news item lately, and WCA wants to be a school that helps offer a solution. With college costs skyrocketing, along with massive quantities of student debt that go along with them, the gap in earnings achievable by someone that goes directly into the workforce in a technical specialty and rises through the ranks into management versus those that attend college is starting to shrink substantially. Although this particular visit by Carter focused on skilled construction labor, the highest demand career paths that require no degree are in healthcare, with the industry providing millions of high-paying and high-quality jobs, as healthcare has forged forward to become America’s largest employment source.
The proposed alternate study program now under consideration by WCA’s leadership would be open to rising juniors and seniors, where students would follow a similar but separate curriculum for those two years which would include on the job training. WCA would seek to partner with select businesses in a number of no-degree-required yet very lucrative career fields, such as healthcare as mentioned above as well as automotive technician, public administration, construction trades (carpentry, electrical, HVAC, etc), pharmacology, business administration and finance, cybersecurity and more. A special Workforce Readiness Training Director position would be created at the school to maintain communications with the businesses, ensuring work compliance and coordinating fieldwork grading.
One of the plan’s originating pushes have come from Mike Nice, who in addition to being a WCA School Board member, is also a local business owner in the construction trades. “We strongly encourage and support WCA’s plan to introduce a Workforce Readiness Training Program (WRTP) to the community. The current shortage of skilled labor in the trades has become critical and will only worsen as the Baby Boom generation leaves the workforce in greater numbers,” commented Nice, speaking in his capacity as part of George Nice & Sons’ leadership team. “Our ability to expand our company is limited only by the availability of our most important resource: a skilled, developed and prepared workforce. We need employees not only with basic skills in the trades we employ, but also developed in terms of maturity and character, and morally prepared with a strong work ethic. WCA’s plan to combine a Biblically-based education with technical training will help to meet this demand.”
Numerous news outlets echo Nice’s sentiments and laments. In an article penned recently in the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the author pointed out that all types of jobs have become hard to fill due to recent economic trends: The U.S. unemployment rate continues to sink, hitting a 17-year low in December (3.9 percent), and job seekers are finding work more easily than at any time since the mid-90s. Job openings in the United States have now topped roughly 6 million for five months in a row, a record streak, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Another article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that more than 80% of Virginia construction firms report they are having a hard time filling hourly jobs requiring craft skills, jobs that represent the bulk of the construction workforce, according to the survey results released recently by the Associated General Contractors of America and Autodesk. The Virginia survey results were essentially the same as the national survey of 2,000 construction firms, showing that 80% are having difficulty finding qualified workers.
Under the proposed plan, businesses who decide to participate in the program will get an added perk in the form of reduced tuition rates at WCA for their employees, which they can add to their slate of employee benefits. In addition, each participating company would have the option of filling a seat on the school’s Workforce Readiness Training Program Enrollment Committee.
Work continues on the development of curriculum, partnerships, and logistics around the program, which the school would like to have ready to rollout in the Fall of 2020. We will keep you updated on the program if/when it starts to round into form!