Last fall, Thomas Nelson Community College, in a joint effort with local businesses, started a program called “WIRED for Success,” which offers courses in electrical training. The program’s first graduation took place in January with all six students in the class receiving numerous national and state certificates.
“It was real successful. It was a real positive on our part,” said Jerry Hemenway, the Trades Navigator and Center for Building and Construction Trades Coordinator.
According to Dr. Deborah Wright, Vice President for Workforce Development at Thomas Nelson, five of the six are now employed and the sixth has a job offer pending. One of the students was hired before she graduated.
“Once again, Thomas Nelson heard employers, and by bringing together a community partnership with the employer, developed a program that ended in student success,” Wright said.
The College’s main partner in the program is Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia, with classes, traditional and hands-on, held at the Thomas Nelson Center for Building and Construction Trades at the Goodwill Retail Operations Center in Hampton. Major support for the program came from the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development and Peninsula Worklink. They provided the first third of tuition, 50 percent of the on-the-job- training money, the cost of the Goodwill soft skills and the $200 tool kits.
The timing of the program couldn’t have been better. Numerous economic forecasts predict steady growth for the construction industry in 2018, which presents good and bad news. The good news is plenty of jobs should be available. The bad news is filling those jobs with qualified candidates could pose a problem for construction companies.
John Angle, a vice president and project executive at W.M. Jordan Company, an award-winning local construction firm, was on an advisory board with Wright. The more they, and others on the board talked, the more they saw a need to develop a pipeline between Thomas Nelson students and local construction businesses. Angle thought the best way his company could help was through its subcontractors.
“We hire a lot of electricians locally and everyone is starved for labor,” he said. “The construction market is really taking off here again and there just isn’t a large enough workforce. So I told Deborah I’d reach out to all of the electrical subcontractors that we work with and try to introduce this new idea that a community college education can develop a team approach with corporate entities and formulate a program where everybody’s getting training to get their baseline credentials and then move into apprenticeship programs. The whole idea was introducing to those subcontractors another pipeline for employees.”
Recruiting, training and retaining employees isn’t always easy, and companies spend a lot of time, money and effort in the process, only for it not to work out for a variety of reasons.
“They have to go through many to get one that’s a keeper,” Wright said.
That is where Thomas Nelson helps. Students accepted into the WIRED program are screened by the College, and by the time they graduate, they have four state and national credentials and are ready to hit the workforce.
“We designed a program whereby our partners would help recruit the students, that we would screen them to what the companies felt were requirements for the job,” Wright said.
That screening, said Angle, “affords these companies to get engaged and increase their odds that the person might actually be a viable candidate for employment.”
Another big partner in the program is the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development, which assists with resume building, interview tips and other training often referred to as “soft skills.”
“The Peninsula Council does one-on-one counseling and also does workshops on obtaining and keeping employment,” Wright said.
The key, said Wright, is local companies are involved every step of the way.
“Part of this program is employers are in at the beginning, deciding the curriculum, helping to recruit the students, coming in to the classroom to talk to them about the jobs at their company, to take them on field trips to see the jobs,” Wright said.
One of those trips, to W.M. Jordan’s newest construction site, provided Wright with one of the highlights of the semester. The students were encouraged to ask contractors questions, which they did.
“(The contractors) kept complimenting me, saying, ‘We have never seen students like this,’” Wright said. “The reason it was so exciting to me was to see the excitement in the eyes of the contractors.”
The challenge now is to spread the word about the program.
“We just need to get more students,” Angle said. “The way W.M. Jordan benefits is we’re spending the energy to supplement and get our contractor communities interested in using Thomas Nelson Community College as a possibility for creating an employment pipeline, which is a new concept for them. Most contractors don’t think of that so we are trying to educate and let people know that this is another option that they can explore.”
Wright said numerous workforce surveys indicate the College’s programs are well-regarded, especially with people “who are in the know.” It’s the other people Thomas Nelson is trying to reach.
“Time and time again, (polls) come out with Thomas Nelson No. 1,” Wright said. “But the average person doesn’t know this.”
Continuing to turn out students who are just as successful as the original group could go a long way toward enlightening them.