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TCC and City of Chesapeake convene advanced manufacturing workforce summit

Looking to forge industry partnerships and provide needed training for future generations of advanced manufacturing technicians, Tidewater Community College and the City of Chesapeake, Department of Economic Development, sponsored an Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Summit on Aug. 15.

More than 30 business leaders from Chesapeake’s manufacturing and skilled trade sectors gathered in the Chesapeake Campus Student Center to learn about career pathway opportunities provided by the college.

President Edna Baehre-Kolovani welcomed the group saying, “This meeting is important to me because we want to provide solutions for your workforce training needs. The college is committed to building a pipeline for young people to good paying manufacturing jobs in the region. We also seek to advance the skills of those already employed by your companies.”

She noted that almost exactly a year ago, TCC convened another meeting, Let’s Grow, the 2013 Jobs Summit. This summit was another in a series of followups to that meeting, during which manufacturers, shipbuilders and port operators described their need for trained workers.

She added, “Whether working with our Workforce Solutions staff to have training on site, or sending your employees to our campuses, our faculty members speak your language, are extremely knowledgeable and they’ve come from industry, so they understand your business needs.”

Steven Wright, director of the city’s Department of Economic Development noted, “We’re interested in advanced manufacturing in Chesapeake and will do everything in our power to see the industry grow. We know a big piece of this success is workforce development for your companies. We’ve partnered with TCC and Chesapeake Public Schools to ensure a qualified labor pool for current and future needs.”

Sharing success stories, James Travers, vice president of business operations of Sumitomo Machinery America, commented on an industry partnership his company developed with IMS Gear and Busch Manufacturing.  He noted the specialized training is helping prepare new skilled workers, a much need solution especially with the graying of the workforce.

“It’s a great success story,” Travers said.

Chesapeake Provost Lisa Rhine joined the conversation with highlights of a new career pathway for Chesapeake high school students not planning on college after high school.

“This is not your father’s vocational school,” Rhine said. “We’ve aligned our curriculums so that with dual enrollment while still in high school, students can earn a career studies certificate in mechatronics, and upon graduation from high school, earn an associate degree in one year. Students in the program will also qualify to sit for an electronics industry credential and are well prepared for entry-level work and further education.”

Henry White, a journeyman marine electrician for AMSEC, spoke about his Navy career, educational journey and the job promotion that followed. “It turns out that you can teach old dogs new tricks,” he said with a laugh.

“I’m in my mid-40s and was one of 12 employees selected for a program that took us back into the classroom at TCC,” White said. “We were all impressed with Thomas Stout, the mechatronics program head, who taught our classes at night. It was clear from the start that he was teaching us from a broad base, and not out of a textbook.”  White is now four courses away from his associate degree in mechatronics.

After hearing White’s TCC student experience, a question was also posed about how to better steer transitioning military service members and veterans toward advanced manufacturing careers. All agreed that TCC’s Center for Military and Veteran Education (CMVE) is a great foundation that should be built upon to further this initiative.

A roundtable discussion led by Baehre-Kolovani was next. “I’m asking you all to figuratively and literally put your cards on that table,” she said to the group, asking them to leave their business cards. “That way we can stay connected and follow up with you.”

The morning ended with Stout giving a tour of the Chesapeake Campus’ new precision machining lab, made possible in part by the donation of coordinate-measurement machines and a three-axis mill from STIHL Inc. in Virginia Beach. The lab includes computer numerical control (CNC) mills and lathes along with numerous manual machine tools.