Community College Training Partnership Results in High Placement Rates for 388 Students

A groundbreaking collaboration of Virginia Community Colleges with the state’s largest private employer, Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, has resulted in exceptional success.  The Marine Skilled Trades Training program, a model business-education partnership, resulted in jobs for 363 Hampton Roads residents, a 93 percent hiring rate for the program, which began in 2010.

Students hired by Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) earned wages of $32,000 plus benefits following two to three weeks of intensive training, which modeled the real work environment; clocking in at 7 a.m., wearing work apparel, working on components that exist in the yard and demonstrating teamwork in problem solving.

“I use everything I was taught in the class,” said Lydia Boone, who completed the Marine Electrician course at Thomas Nelson Community and now works as an electrician at Newport News Shipbuilding. “I never worked with anything electrical before and the class has given me a leg-up in the shipyard. I wish others could have benefited from the same experience.”

Thomas Nelson, Tidewater, Paul D. Camp, Rappahannock and Eastern Shore Community Colleges identified a growing need for skills training in Hampton Roads. To meet the demand, the five colleges formed a historic partnership with the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) and Newport News Shipbuilding to train and hire skilled workers from the community.

“The program was successful and met urgent Newport News Shipbuilding hiring needs over a three-year period in the four skilled trade occupations. The Shipyard is pleased with the new hires and their performance, productivity and retention,” stated Dr. Deborah Wright, Vice President of Thomas Nelson Workforce Development and Chair of the Marine Trades Training collaborative, which was led by Thomas Nelson, as a result of the College’s 47-year training and education relationship with Newport News Shipbuilding.

“Thomas Nelson’s first partnership with the Shipyard began the year the College opened. The College worked with the Shipyard to enroll students as apprentices toward degrees and then a degree in Industrial Maintenance,” said Wright. “The College has served the yard well. So when a study conducted by Thomas Nelson and the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development revealed a need for 11,150 skilled employees over a six-year-period, far exceeding one college’s ability to provide trained work-ready workers, the idea for the collaborative was born.”

The coalition of community colleges utilized funding from VCCS to offer training in Marine Electrician, Outside Machinist, Marine Painter, and Marine Welder courses.  Students accessed workforce scholarships and paid $250 for the course which was reimbursed by the shipyard upon employment. Since its inception, a total of 388 individuals completed the program.

“Newport News Shipbuilding has found that by working closely and sharing some of our training materials with local community colleges, we create a richer pipeline of talent applying for career opportunities with our company,” said Bill Docalovich, Director of Trades Services at Newport News Shipbuilding.

“We are pleased with the numbers of skilled workers with good jobs, contributing to the economy of our region,” said Dr. John Dever, Thomas Nelson President. “It is another example of how community colleges and their business partners make public-private partnerships work. The results exceed what either partner can do alone.”

As a result of the success, Dever has called for an in-depth evaluation of the program to identify best practices and lessons learned to share with other colleges and corporate partners.

In addition, NNS has encouraged expanding the availability of the pre-hire training courses through a partnership with the Virginia Ship Repair Foundation. The Foundation, led by Virginia Ship Repair Association (VSRA), is adapting the courses to meet the needs of approximately 180 ship repair companies in the region. VRSA is based in Norfolk and the collaborative will be led by Tidewater Community College.

“The ship repair industry is very focused on building our next generation of expert tradespeople and this program will help our companies fill the 18,000-plus jobs opening up through this decade,” said Michelle Tomaszewski, VSRA. “Our first three pilot classes have gone very well and we anticipate the quality of this entry-level labor force will allow companies to hire, train and promote tradespeople to Journeyman status at an advanced pace.”