Skip navigation

Live! Inside the Skilled Trades Center

In this series, we provide a closer look at hands-on learning during COVID-19.

While COVID-19 means online learning for most Tidewater Community College students, some are back in the classroom for hands-on training. In fact, more than 400 sections of classes in interior design, automotive, health professions, welding, veterinary technology, culinary arts, visual arts, electronics technology and other programs have on-campus components.

Inside a sheet metal fabrication class at the Skilled Trades Center

Sheet metal specialists are responsible for the majority of the interior finish work on Navy vessels. The two-week training program at the Skilled Trades Center starts with the basics, all the way back to how to read a ruler. Students learn about measuring, how to use various wrenches and rivets and how to drill holes. They leave with the knowledge and know-how to lay out, fabricate, assemble, modify, repair and install sheet metal products related to ventilation on a ship.

Instructor Everett Wilkerson with student Sharia Hoffler

The training has a classroom component that includes basic mathematics – adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing fractions and how this relates to measurements. Students learn how to use approximately 26 hand tools, including drillers and grinders. They are hands-on the very first day.

No prior knowledge required, yet by the end of the two weeks, students can see their results and refine their processes. Their finished product is its own work of a different kind of art.

“It’s very detailed work,” said instructor Everett Wilkerson. “You have to be good at measuring and particularly good at measuring angles.”

Student voices

“I was looking for a job and someone told me about this program. It’s working out.” — Sharia Hoffler

Christian Jones

“I like working with my hands. It’s fun to use the tools. I like putting stuff together no matter how difficult it is.” — Christian Jones, who added, “The stuff we make in here is cool; it’s never boring.”

Kenneth Fitzhugh grew up tinkering with tools alongside his dad. “This is something different than most jobs. It gives me a goal.”

The sounds of the Skilled Trades Academy

About the instructor

Wilkerson is retired from Newport News Shipbuilding after working there 45 years as an outside machinist. Approachable with his students, he enjoys teaching students the proper techniques for using tools. “Once they’re finished, you can see they get a feeling of accomplishment,” he said.

“As they say, from here, you can pretty much go anywhere,”

Hoffler reviews class materials.

Good to know

Some of the students in this program are part of Newport News Shipbuilding’s pre-hire program. That means they pay $250 and receive reimbursement upon successful completion of the class. After one-day of safety training, they have the green light to get hired and make upward of $19 per hour.

The female students in this cohort are part of the Women in Skilled Careers (WISC) cohort, a 12-week program that exposes women to six trades: marine coating, marine electrical, outside machinist, pipefitting, sheet metal fabrication and welding. After completion, graduates can earn industry-recognized credentials that make them eligible for immediate hire.

More information

Interested in learning a trade that leads to employment? Contact TCC’s Stan Ashemore at The Skilled Trades Academy is located at 3303 Airline Blvd., in Portsmouth.

Kenneth Fitzhugh

A warm office and an engineering degree in her future are what this mom loves about her shipyard apprenticeship

If your image of working in a shipyard is of a grizzled guy weathering windy waterfront conditions with dirty hands, consider Danielle Eckstein.

The 26-year-old is a mother of three, including twin toddlers. She didn’t tinker with tools growing up. She prefers an office job to working outside in the elements.

The Woodside High School graduate found the perfect career path as an apprentice at Newport News Shipbuilding, where she earns a competitive wage while she works toward her Associate of Applied Science in Engineering from Tidewater Community College.

“I see a lot of women working in different trades here,” she said. “Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t do something or you’re not capable of doing something. Hard work does pay off.”

Eckstein balanced multiple low-wage retail positions after high school that left her frustrated every time she got her paycheck. Her father, Ernie, had long touted the opportunities at Newport News Shipyard, and finally he talked her into completing a training program that led to a wage position there as an electrician.

Eckstein wanted more and applied to The Apprentice School, where she was accepted a year later. After competing basic coursework, she gained entry into the shipyard’s apprenticeship program. She started her initial coursework at the shipyard just two weeks after giving birth to twins, Camden and Austin.

Now she’s immersed in a program that she regards as challenging and rewarding. Twice a week, Eckstein is on campus at TCC, where she juggles three classes, statics, differential equations and chemistry. The other days she works in the yard, but she doesn’t need to bundle up to handle the sometimes frigid temperatures along the James River.

“I’m inside, in a nice warm office and I love it,” she said. Eckstein’s focus is on production planning, which involves working with digital software specific to shipbuilding.

When Eckstein walks past the USS Gerald R. Ford, the lead ship of her class of Navy aircraft carriers, she is reminded of the small role she played. It never fails to bring a smile.

And, once she finishes her apprenticeship and earns her TCC degree, Eckstein will be ready to achieve a supervisory role anywhere in the company.

You might say her ship has come in.

“I like having a degree in my future,” she said. “My boys are little now, but I want them to see you’re never too old to finish school and hard work eventually pays off.”

Interested in an apprenticeship? Contact Karen Miller at TCC’s Apprenticeship Institute at Visit

Pre-apprentices and employers meet face to face at TCC career preparation seminar

Juniors and seniors from the four major school systems, representatives from regional ship repair companies and administrators invested in Tidewater Community College’s Apprenticeship Institute created a buzz in the Chesapeake Campus Student Center.

Mock interviews, resume advice and real talk from a panel of apprentices were all part of TCC’s first-ever Shipbuilding Pre-Apprenticeship Career Preparation Seminar.

“This is collaboration — employers, high school students and the college all connecting,” said Todd Estes, director of TCC’s Apprenticeship Institute. The 132 pre-apprentices, each wearing navy, collared polo shirts, sponsored by The SMART Center, sat across the table from employers, all members of Virginia Ship Repair Association, for a sampling of some real-world questions they might be asked should they continue the apprenticeship route.

Representatives from Newport News Shipbuilding, Oceaneering, BAE Systems, Lyon Shipyard, Tecnico and Colonna’s were among those in attendance.

Pre-apprentices Aaron Farnham (Grassfield), Alyssa Shepherd (Wilson), Felicia Cossavella (First Colonial) and Warren Burrus (Norview)

Interviews were conducted in the same manner as speed dating.

“An ad slogan to describe yourself?”

“What do you do when you’re part of a team and one member isn’t carrying his weight?”

“What’s your strength?”

Good attendance isn’t the best answer for that last question, advised Cal Scheidt, director of military contract programs at TCC. “That’s an expectation.”

When the pre-apprentices would stammer, freeze and even “pass” on a question, they were encouraged to dig deeper. “You’ve got to learn to think on your feet,” urged Will Early from Tecnico.

As pre-apprentices, the students already have a leg up on achieving a Registered Apprenticeship opportunity that would allow them to “earn while they learn.” Three hours of real-world career preparation only enhances their chances of being part of a program that combines on-the-job training with a theoretical approach and a paycheck in career areas that have been identified as high demand.

Demetrius Lee, a senior at Norcom High who was accepted into the Apprentice School just two days prior, enjoyed the practical tips he learned over three hours.

Demetrius Lee with Will Prescott, training manager at The Apprentice School.

From his first day learning welding at TCC’s Portsmouth Campus, Lee realized he had found something special. For starters, he loves to weld.  “I knew it was for me; the learning process is actually fun,” he said. “I like everything about it – the environment and the teachers – they push you.”

Lee, aspiring to be a supervisor at Newport News Shipbuilding, noted, “It’s overwhelming and unreal to be 18 and have a promising career.”

Seth Messinger, a Great Bridge High junior, also found the day helpful.  “Getting to know the companies and what they expect is great, so when I come back next year as a senior, I already have that relationship,” he said.

Administrators from the school systems in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach agreed that pre-apprenticeships are becoming an easier sell in an era of student loan debt coupled with the frustration of finding a good job even with a bachelor’s degree in hand.

“This has the potential to be life changing for these young people,” said Sheli Porter, director of high school curriculum and instruction for Chesapeake Public Schools. “We’re trying to expand the knowledge in our community that there are opportunities. You can make a good living and we have employers who are right here eager to talk to these young people.

“TCC helped us facilitate these conversations between businesses and our kids and our families so that they understand apprenticeship is a valid option. Our school division is the vessel to give kids that library of choice. This is not settling. This is a good living, a career.”

For information about the Apprenticeship Institute, contact Estes at