Thomas Nelson Community College’s Workforce Development Faces Global Competitiveness with a Regional Response

Published: January 16, 2009

At a time when manufacturing jobs are leaving the United States in unprecedented numbers, Workforce Development at Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC) in Hampton, Virginia, has achieved a major milestone with the placement of the 4,000th individual in an advanced manufacturing job in the Hampton Roads region in less than four years.

Working with over 80 businesses, four community colleges, state employment offices, two workforce boards, and local governments, TNCC’s employment pipeline delivers a local solution to the nation’s manufacturing challenge—how to assess, prepare, and refer displaced and underemployed workers from traditional manufacturing to advanced, high growth manufacturing jobs.

TNCC Workforce Development piloted the concept of an Advanced Manufacturing Pipeline in 2003 using mini-grant from the workforce board, followed by an incentive grant from the national workforce board.  In April 2005, TNCC was awarded a grant for $2 million under the President’s High Growth Job Training Initiative, as implemented by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, launching a robust employment and training pipeline known as the Southeast Virginia Advanced Manufacturing Pipeline (SEVAMP).

The project links one stop centers, community colleges, and employers to recruit, assess, and refer pools of skilled workers to meet job requirements identified by Virginia manufacturers SEVAMP is a unique resource for companies in this region, offering recruitment capabilities that significantly improve the effectiveness and efficiency in hiring of skilled workforce.

To date, SEVAMP has screened and assessed an estimated 12,000 applicants and placed 4,200 with 58 companies, most being small or medium sized firms. Besides providing a seamless recruitment orientation and screening process, the pipeline uses ACT WorkKeys© job profiles and worker skill assessments.  These assessments emphasize the value of Virginia’s Career Readiness Certificate measuring skills in reading, applied math, and locating information required for 80 percent of jobs.

TNCC, in partnership with the one stop center, has also used numerous marketing methods to recruit SEVAMP participants, including HRT bus displays, newspaper and billboard ads, TV and radio commercials, and participation at area career fairs.

Hampton Roads companies are at the forefront of advanced manufacturing in the 21st century with a diverse product spectrum that spans nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, space technology, bio-technology, furniture, food processing, and modeling and simulation, besides fabrication and machining. And these companies have turned to the pipeline for meeting their needs for the next generation of skilled employees.

Mike Lindsey, Human Resources Manager at Continental AG (formerly Siemens VDO Automotive) in Newport News reports that the TNCC pipeline “has had a positive effect on hiring, retention and promotion throughout the company.”

Mary Mayer, Vice President at Advex Corporation, agrees. “The support we receive from Thomas Nelson Community College has enabled us to train and sustain a more effective and competitive workforce.”

John Calver, Director of Advanced Manufacturing at TNCC is proud of the results of the project.  “Data shows that the time to hire a competent employee can be reduced by as much as 35 percent and the costs associated with hiring are reduced by 30 percent,” he says.  “Finding the ’right person – first time’ increases retention. Most importantly a candidate from SEVAMP is trainable. This can quickly and positively impact the bottom line and improve a company’s competitiveness.”

According to Bob Zimmerman, Product Manager for Catalina Cylinders’ Cliff Impact Division, his company adopted WorkKeys a few years ago and found it to be effective in reducing turnover. “After a hiatus we have returned to WorkKeys in our hiring process realizing the value the system offers us in identifying capable potential employees quickly, effectively and economically,” he said.

Manufacturing is a critical and evolving component of Virginia’s economy.  It is the state’s fourth largest sector in terms of private employment ranking 8th in average monthly earnings.  In the Hampton Roads region, manufacturing accounts for 9.6 percent of the employed workforce and pays wages that on average are 36.2 percent above the regional average.

The flow through the pipeline shows no sign of slowing down, even in the economic downturn. TNCC’s local industry partners — such as ADVEX Corporation, Alcoa Howmet, Anheuser-Busch, Canon Virginia Inc (CVI), Liebherr Mining Equipment, Northrop Grumman Ship Building (NGSB) and Printpack — have indicated a requirement for up to 4,000 new jobs over the next four years in welding, machining, precision production technology and maintenance.

This is in addition to the need to replace workers lost to normal attrition. In a survey conducted by the Virginia Manufacturers Association, manufacturers reported on the inadequacy of the current education and training system to meet the high growth/high demand fields, lamenting the lack of awareness of the earning potential and life long career opportunities to be achieved in advanced manufacturing.

“We have added computer-based training (CBT) instruction, short-term welding, HVAC and other training as part of our pre- and post-employment preparation which can guarantee a job-ready workforce,” said Dr. Deborah Wright, TNCC Vice President for Workforce Development.

TNCC’s Workforce Development Center is one of only 13 recognized as a Certified Education Center in the nation by Fabricators and Manufacturers Association (FMA).  This recognition is just one of the tools that enable Thomas Nelson Community College to continue to provide workforce solutions for manufacturers who face the rapidly evolving nature of global competition. Focused on performance and demand-driven requirements, Workforce Development at TNCC delivers lifelong career learning, by applying innovation and cutting edge technology to train the future workforce.

Through collaboration and partnership with local and national agencies, Thomas Nelson Community College Workforce Development is facing global manufacturing challenges head on.  Working directly with its collaborative partners, including its recent FMA industry certification, TNCC has accomplished a very effective process to provide rapid and effective solutions for manufacturers in and beyond Hampton Roads.

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