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HRWC’s $75,000 donation will increase program offerings at the Skilled Trades Academy

It was a celebration at Tidewater Community College’s Skilled Trades Academy with community leaders, workforce partners and friends gathering to recognize the partnership between TCC and the Hampton Roads Workforce Council (HRWC).

“We are here to celebrate and highlight the relationship we have with the Hampton Roads Workforce Council,” said President Marcia Conston. “This partnership enables TCC to continue to serve as one of the training engines for our region,” said President Marcia Conston. “Working together we ensure that residents receive career training to build long-term career success.” 

TCC students with President Marcia Conston (center) and VP Tamara Williams (left) and Mayor Glover.

During the gathering, HRWC President Shawn Avery presented President Conston with a new gift of $75,000 for the Academy in support of new program offerings.
“We’ve been part of this great facility since day one and are proud of the work we are doing together,” Avery said. “TCC is one of our strongest partners and this gift is just the tip of the iceberg of what we do together. A lot of regions in the state have competitive relationships, but we’ve always been friends and partners.”

HRWC President Shawn Avery and board member Mark Johnson just before the big reveal.

The Academy offers hands-on, short-term instruction for in-demand trade jobs. Programs are offered in welding, sheet metal, pipefitting, roofing, marine coating and more.

This donation will directly support:

  • New Programs that address emerging in-demand careers, with short-term hands-on programs. Added programs include electric vehicle technical, logistics, ship fitter and heavy equipment operator.
  • Expanded offerings by increasing capacity in current programs and exponentially growing the talent pipeline in the region.

The event also included remarks from Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover. “This is a great opportunity to talk with students and make sure they understand that the work they are doing is good for their families, and also for our region and our nation,” he said. “As a champion for the workforce, we want to be a place that provides hope and a future for residents.”

Skilled Trades Academy students join the celebration.

The Skilled Trades Academy opened in 2019 and currently provides training in 10 trades. The facility offers hands-on training in spaces that mimic a variety of job sites. To date, a total of 96% of students who complete industry-recognized credentials are hired by regional employers.

“We are proud of our partnership with HRWC,” added Tamara Williams, TCC’s vice president of Workforce Solutions. “They provide a vision for our region and work hard to create a well-equipped and stable workforce for Hampton Roads. By working together, we are leveraging support from federal and state sources. That means that oftentimes residents in need receive the training at no cost to them.”

Over the past three years, HRWC has given $125,000 to TCC.

ERC’s $400,000 donation will double the size of TCC’s Skilled Trades Academy

Elizabeth River Crossings OpCo, (ERC), the operator of the Downtown and Midtown tunnels, continues its commitment to supporting the community and higher education with a new $400,000 donation to Tidewater Community College.

The gift is designated to support the expansion of the Skilled Trades Academy in Portsmouth. The Academy offers hands-on, short-term instruction for in-demand trade jobs. Programs are offered in welding, sheet metal, pipefitting, roofing, marine coating and more.

“We are grateful to Elizabeth River Crossings for its continued generosity in support of our students,” said TCC President Marcia Conston. “This gift ensures that even more students will be able to take short-term programs that have long-term gains.”

This donation will directly support:

  • New Programs that address emerging in-demand careers, with short-term hands-on programs.
  • Facility expansion that will double the size of the academy creating a 40,000- square-foot, fully equipped facility in Portsmouth.
  • Expanded program offerings by increasing class offerings and capacity.

 “We are proud to help fund quality training for in-demand jobs and invest in the vibrancy of the Hampton Roads workforce,” said Anna Bonet, chief executive officer of ERC. “As an infrastructure company, we strongly value skilled trades and safety training programs. There is such a high demand across multiple industries in this region right now, and we want to help eliminate any barriers for these students to get the training they need and find higher-paying, and more stable careers. These students are truly the future of our economy.”

The Skilled Trades Academy opened in 2019 and currently provides training in 10 trades. The facility offers hands-on training in spaces that mimic a variety of job sites. To date, a total of 96% of students who complete industry-recognized credentials are hired by regional employers.

ERC is also a long-time supporter of TCC’s STEM Promise Scholarship program, helping to provide full scholarships for 20 students each year as they earn their associate degrees in STEM-related fields.

“We appreciate that Elizabeth River Crossings has been our pioneer scholarship supporter in the STEM fields for the past six years,” said Christopher Bryant, TCC’s vice president for Institutional Advancement. “We are thrilled that this new gift will expand the physical footprint of the Skilled Trades Academy and increase student opportunities for hands-on training in the trades.”

TCC grad trained for construction career in just a few weeks

Alexander Williams has a hard hat that he’s quite proud of. He has a full-time construction job with benefits, and great hours thanks to training offered through Tidewater Community College’s Center for Workforce Solutions.

TCC’s program provides introductory training as part of the National Center for Construction Education and Research. The class covers topics like basic safety, communication skills and introduction to construction drawings. Completing this curriculum gives graduates the basic skills needed to get a job or continue their education in any craft area of their choosing.

Williams learned about the program from his sister. “I enjoyed interacting with others in my classes and gaining those soft skills that are essential on the job,” he said.

Williams works for Hampton Roads Connector Partners where he is part of the environmental team. “Our job is to protect the land and the water supply. It’s a good job, with consistent hours and competitive pay,” he said.

Thanks to new funding from the state, more qualifying students can enroll in “G3” programs – Get a Skill, Get a Job and Get Ahead – for several fields, including construction. And many students can get the training using “G3” tuition assistance, allowing them to gain the skills they need for a good career without worrying about the cost.

Tamara Williams (no relation to Alexander Williams) is vice president of TCC’s Center for Workforce Solutions. She says, “Students who go through this construction portion of our program have jobs before they have credentials. The employers come in and they stay engaged. We don’t have anyone left for placement when the course ends.”

Williams is proud of how his new career will position his entire family for success. “The program was a great stepping stone into a career with forward mobility,” he said. “I have a 10-month-old son, a significant other and we are making it through,” Williams said.

“A lot of doors opened for me, and my life is significantly improved because of TCC,” he added.

According to Build Your Future Virginia, a carpenter in the commonwealth earns about $44,000 a year while an electrician earns about $67,000 a year.

The next introductory construction course begins this week. To register, visit here. Registration specialists are available Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., by calling 757-822-1234 or emailing

TCC to provide tuition-free education through Gov. Northam’s “G3” program

Tidewater Community College will offer tuition-free education to low- and middle-income students through Gov. Ralph Northam’s “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” initiative, or “G3” program, which was signed into legislation on March 29, 2021.

The “G3” program includes $36 million to cover tuition, fees, and books and provide wraparound support for eligible students at the Commonwealth’s two-year public institutions.

“This is a phenomenal day for TCC and the students we serve,” said Dr. Michelle Woodhouse, interim vice president of academics and chief academic officer. “This program will help many students retrain for new careers in high-demand industries and expand the pipeline of talent for Virginia’s businesses.”

The “G3” program connects students with training and resources so they can secure jobs in high-demand fields and support their families without incurring high levels of student loan debt.

Students working in different careers.

“G3” program areas include health care, information technology and computer science, manufacturing and skilled trades, public safety, and early childhood education. On average, students in these high-demand degree programs increase their wages by 60 percent upon program completion.

TCC alum Marcus Moody teaches welding at the Portsmouth Campus.

TCC alum Marcus Moody teaches welding on the Portsmouth Campus, which is home to the area’s largest welding lab. He came to TCC in 2012 to retrain for a new career after being laid off from a job in the banking industry. “A program like this would have been helpful to me. I would not have been able to improve myself and learn a new skill without the financial aid and the lower tuition rates at TCC,” Moody said.

“I encourage anyone to take advantage of the opportunities at TCC, including the skilled trades. I talk with my students about the options for welders, from working at the shipyard to owning your own business. Once you learn the skill, it’s yours for life.”

TCC welding student Aurora Finchum.

The “G3” program is one of the first in the nation to provide wraparound financial assistance to help students at the lowest income levels with expenses such as food, transportation, and childcare. Students who qualify for a full federal Pell grant and enroll full-time will receive student- support incentive grants on a semester basis. These grants will be in an amount up to $900 per semester and up to $450 per summer term.

Students interested in “G3” programs at TCC should call the Virtual Student Support Team at 757-822-1111 or email

TCC to offer first plumbing program

Tidewater Community College is offering its first plumbing program. The program is designed to quickly train students for careers in the field and is suited for transitioning military or anyone interested in the skilled trades.

The 204-hour hands-on program is being offered at TCC’s Skilled Trades Academy and when completed, students will receive an industry-recognized credential through National Center for Construction Education and Research, along with 20 continuing education units awarded from TCC.

“Plumbing is an essential job,” said instructor Cody Whitlock. “We currently don’t have enough skilled workers, so companies are always looking for trained and competent people. This program will help build a pipeline of skilled workers.”

Students will learn the basics of plumbing, as well as safety, tools of the trade, and how to use plumbing math and drawings. Students will work with plastic, copper and cast-iron pipes, specific fittings, and drain, waste, and vent systems, to name a few.

Students will learn in this training “house,” newly built in TCC’s Skilled Trades Academy.

“This is the first plumbing class TCC has ever had,” added Whitlock. “To facilitate learning, we’ve built a mock house where we will teach students the hands-on techniques used when working with pipes and fittings.”

The first class starts on April 12 and ends August 17. The class will meet Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 5:30 – 9:30 p.m. The registration deadline is April 9.

“Learning plumbing is something no one can take from you,” Whitlock added. “You can take it anywhere and everyone needs it.”

For more information, call TCC’s Center for Workforce Solutions at 822-1234 or email

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

Northam visits Skilled Trades Academy for bill signing

Tidewater Community College’s Skilled Trade Academy was the backdrop for Gov. Ralph Northam’s visit to Hampton Roads on Wednesday morning. Northam signed two bills that enhance worker protections with measures that increase the minimum wage, ban workplace discrimination and combat worker misclassification and wage theft.

“It’s great to be back in Portsmouth,” said Northam, whose message touted the importance of workers. “When we invest in Virginians who are preparing for a job, seeking to learn a new skill for a promotion or wanting to change career paths, we’re investing in Virginia’s economy.”

The Skilled Trades Academy offers short term training in the maritime and construction industry; Northam participated in the academy’s grand opening in December 2019.

President Conston at the Skilled Trades Academy

“We are truly honored you chose TCC’s Skilled Trade Academy for your event this morning,” said TCC President Marcia Conston. “We are excited you are here.”

This wasn’t Northam’s first visit to the Skilled Trades Academy, a 20,000 square-foot facility that offers short-term training in the maritime and construction industry that opened in December 2018. In May 2019, he toured the facility, met with students and signed bill HB2020, which called for Virginia’s Community Colleges to create uniform instruction for registered apprenticeships in high-demand fields.

“I remember well when I was here just a little more than a year ago,” he said.

Several state legislators were in attendance on Wednesday to champion both bills, which include raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour incrementally by 2026. Among them: Del. Cliff Hayes (D-Chesapeake), Chief Workforce Development Officer Megan Healy, Del. Steve Heretick (D-Portsmouth), Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Dale City), Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe, Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr. (D-Chesapeake) and (Del. Jeion Ward (D-Hampton).

“Virginia’s best asset is our workers,” Healy said. “We are in a little bit of an economic slump, but I know our workers and our skilled talent is really what’s going to help this economy rebound.”

President Conston talks with Gov. Northam.

Inside Skilled Trades: Marine Coating

James Bryant didn’t want to work retail anymore; truckers Larry Morris and Everett Gamble grew tired of life on the road. Karen Gibson and Shaunte Brooks sought a challenge beyond their traditional office jobs.

Roberto Bautista shared a sentiment expressed by the entire group. “I wanted a career, not a job. I wanted to do something interesting and fun,” said the former pizza cook.

After completing Marine Trade Training Coating Level 1 at Tidewater Community College, the six-student cohort will start their next professional chapter as employees at Newport News Shipbuilding. Given the 100 percent pass rate, each of the students will be reimbursed the $250 program fee.

“We’ll be starting off at $18 or $19 an hour,” said Bryant, 20, who aspires to work his way into a management position.

“Now I have a skill I can take with me for the rest of my life,” Gamble said. “This is a great deal.”

The students earned certificates on March 13 at TCC’s Center for Workforce Solutions in northern Suffolk, the same site where they received hands-on training in marine painting. It’s a craft that is far more technical than updating the color in your bathroom.

Marine painters apply protective coatings using brushes, spray guns and rollers. Initial class time is spent learning about rust and corrosion and how to prevent it.  Retired Navy veteran Bill Sowers instructed the class, which introduce students to the properties of paint and the best coating to use for each surface.

Students learn the terminology — from mutt to stern to bow to bulkhead  — and how to use tools – needle guns, sandpaper and gauges – that will be on hand their first day of work in the shipyard.

They practice by painting mockups inside a state-of-the-art portable trailer just a few paces away from their classroom. Student trade turns as inspectors, using a magnetic gauge that checks for anything amiss in their peers’ work.

Sowers encourages them to take pride in their good work. Put succinctly, he noted, “The Navy has gotten sick and tired of their ships being messed up. Seventy-five percent of the time it’s because of painting jobs that have failed.”

Roberto Bautista

That won’t happen with this group, which diligently attending the eight-hour per day class sessions that ran for two weeks. Their foundation taught them how unforgiving saltwater and wind can be to a vessel. The course is taught per Society of Protective Coating standards.

“We’re helping the community in a different way,” Bautista said. “We’re helping the nation, in fact.”

“These students will already know their way around a Navy ship and know what to do,” Sowers said. “They can go right to work because they don’t have to be trained.”

The Virginia Ship Repair Association’s Marine Trade Training Program is designed to help you get a head-start on a rewarding career in the Ship Repair Industry. If you’re interested in a career in marine coating, electrical, outside machinist, pipefitting, sheet metal or welding, start by completing a pre-hire form.