While markets rise and fall, the security of two steady hands that have mastered their trade remains, well, steady. Nationally, there are 600,000 unclaimed jobs in the trades.
“The opportunities in our country, state and region are wide open for skilled trades workers,” Virginia Technical Institute Executive Director Tyke Tenney said. “In our local region there will be a need for nearly 6,000 tradesmen in the next five years. With the average age of the current tradesmen at 58, companies worry that they won’t be able to find enough trained workers to fill job openings.”
Local educational organizations are committed to meeting the needs of area employers and to ensure that locals have opportunities to get the skills they need to secure meaningful, rewarding employment.
“Virginia Technical Institute has hit record enrollment numbers each year for the past four years, due to our curriculum that intentionally meets the needs of the local industries,” Tenney said. “We have worked with the local companies to provide the most in-demand skills.”
VTI offers plumbing, electrical, carpentry, welding, HVAC, industrial maintenance, pipe fitting and, most recently, Programmable Logic Controls (PLC). Programs follow the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) curriculum.
“You can make a good living as a skilled tradesperson in the Lynchburg region, and because of a shortage of qualified workers, salaries will only increase,” Tenney added. “Trades jobs offer a security rarely found in other professions. Those who have mastered a trade are also least affected by the growing use of technology. The growing demand for these professions provide for steady employment, and are, in many cases, recession proof.”
The institute also partners with local companies, 23 to date, for training. This includes company-specific hands-on skills training, industrial safety/OSHA certification, PLC and backflow prevention. Students train in a 115,000-square-foot facility in Altavista, which includes eight classrooms and eight state-of-the-art labs. Its education is certified by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), as well as several workforce investment boards. VTI also assists eight public school divisions with NCCER programs.
From Liberty University, a four-year, private liberal arts university, to Lynchburg’s community college—Central Virginia Community College—the area’s postsecondary educators are also on board to develop talent to fill the community’s needs.
LU offers minors, interdisciplinary degrees, and electives through a Technical Studies partnership with VTI.
CVCC boasts itself as “the leading technical training provider for the Lynchburg Region.” Opportunities range from short-term training for industry credentials to certificates and two-year diplomas in technical fields.
“As the only open-enrollment, public education institution in the region, CVCC serves as a critical access point to affordable education and training,” explained Elizabeth Narehood, CVCC Workforce Development Coordinator. This includes both the academically gifted and technically inclined student.
“Pursuing careers in the technical fields is a great option with high-demand, well paying positions waiting for qualified candidates,” Narehood said. “Many of the students in our trades programming at the college are offered jobs before completing the program or immediately after due to the need for qualified workers. As the baby boomer generation continues into retirement, this is going to leave more and more position openings for younger generations to find great career options especially in the skilled trades.”
Narehood pointed out that talent is a top priority for successful economic development. “An increase in skilled workers not only impacts individuals, but also benefits the entire community,” she said. “There is opportunity for business expansion and new industry recruitment when our region can demonstrate a growing capacity for skilled workers. Access to skilled workers supports business retention and creates an inviting environment for new companies to establish or relocate.”
CVCC is also partnering with regional school divisions to expand career and technical education offerings for high-school students. Narehood said the school has recently received grant funds to continue to expand career and technical education opportunities.
Banker Steel, LLC employs 280 people in the Lynchburg region, with about 210 of those in the shops. President Chet McPhatter said the company needs to hire another 30-40 employees just this year.
“Being a tradesperson is a great way to make a living,” McPhatter said. “Every day you are building something new, and it’s a skill you can take with you anywhere.”
McPhatter said Banker Steel could easily hire 20 experienced people in the Lynchburg area (the company also has Florida and New Jersey locations) now. Still, he has found it a challenge to get more people funneled into training programs, despite the tremendous opportunities.
“Coming out of high school, you can easily make $30K to $40K a year instead of potentially adding student loan debt to yourself,” he said. “As an employee continues to develop and take on more responsibilities, that number grows into six figures. For those that have the drive, there is no limit to where you can end up. Our owner has been in the steel business for 42 years and started straight out of high school into the industry.”