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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