~ Press release issued by Laurel Ridge Community College
Laurel Ridge Community College is part of a Virginia Community College System (VCCS) effort to prepare the tens of thousands of employees needed to shore up the state’s infrastructure. Earlier this month, the VCCS announced the establishment of the Virginia Infrastructure Academy (VIA) to coordinate, scale up and replicate successful infrastructure-related community college training programs.
Those programs have already produced 4,000 graduates, and the VCCS hopes to swell that number to 35,000 over the next five years. The state will need those graduates – according to labor market analytics firm EMSI, employers in Virginia are having a hard time filling upwards of 100,000 infrastructure jobs, which are high-paying and carry advancement opportunities.
Last fall, Congress adopted the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which has a $1.2 million commitment over the next five years for transportation, clean water, solar and wind energy, broadband expansion and more. The commonwealth will receive at least $10 billion of that, with additional funding coming from grants and other sources.
The VIA will see Virginia’s community colleges partner with business leaders to ensure training programs – including heavy construction and maintenance, focusing on roads, bridges and tunnels; broadband expansion; and wind and solar energy infrastructure and distribution – not only address current, but also future needs.
“This is vital to the success of many Virginia businesses,” said Virginia Secretary of Labor George “Bryan” Slater. “Our infrastructure workforce demands are growing daily, and initiatives like the Virginia Infrastructure Academy will help ensure that skilled and qualified people are available for hire, leading to a best-in-class workforce in Virginia.”
Laurel Ridge Community College has produced more than 350 heavy-equipment operator program graduates in the past five years, said Vice President of Workforce Solutions and Continuing Education Jeanian Clark. When related trades programs, such as industrial maintenance, welding and electrical, are thrown in, the number rises above 1,000.
“The availability of a trained, skilled workforce stands out as the most significant challenge for infrastructure construction and maintenance industries nationally and across all Virginia regions,” Clark said. “This workforce crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which nearly a decade of job gains were lost through all industries in Virginia.”
She added that with the Baby Boomer generation continuing to retire through 2024, even more workforce shortages are looming. In 2021, the average age of a skilled crafts professional was 50.
“In 2031 – just nine years away – 41 percent of the current construction workforce is expected to retire,” Clark said. “The Virginia Heavy Construction Contractors Association (HCCA) believes that this is a very conservative estimate given the need to complete projects that have already been funded, and future projects associated with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.”
In the Laurel Ridge service region and nearby Northern Virginia, HCCA has determined there is currently a need for 3,450 skilled infrastructure workers for scheduled projects. With more than 25 percent of the current workforce already aged 55 and older, the growing need is evident.
“HCCA and Laurel Ridge began their program partnership in 2016 with the launch of the first heavy equipment operator program in the state of Virginia focused on supporting the skilled trades needed to support the high-demand jobs in the infrastructure industry,” said Clark. “Laurel Ridge and the HCCA co-chair the VIA taskforce focused on a comprehensive state level approach to scaling up capacity across Virginia to support the demand for these careers.”
Pursuing certification in infrastructure-related trades has never been more affordable. Many of the programs qualify for G3 (Get Skilled, Get a Job, Get Ahead) funding, which pays last-dollar tuition once all financial aid and scholarships have been applied, and for FastForward funding. Learn more about G3 funding atlaurelridge.edu/G3.
For more information about skilled trades at Laurel Ridge, visit laurelridge.edu/trades.