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Virginia Western, New River community colleges talk about new initiative

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Virginia Western Community College Course Coordinator Bryan Walke instructs a student on a heavy machinery simulator. This and other training opportunities are available to help people find new and in-demand careers, community college officials said.

Community college officials in Roanoke and the New River Valley said they are using a new state initiative to spread the word about availability of fast-track training for in-demand, well-paid jobs.

More than 100,000 infrastructure jobs in Virginia await applicants, and community college officials say affordable opportunities abound for anyone seeking to quickly learn skills in high-demand, good-paying work sectors.

Need persists for more skilled laborers who are building out access to internet, integrating new forms of energy, reinforcing aging arteries of transportation, and doing other infrastructure work.

A new initiative called Virginia Infrastructure Academy aims to fill about one-third of related job openings in this state over the next five years, said Milan Hayward, chief workforce officer at Virginia Western Community College.

“There’s never been a more affordable time to consider career training,” Hayward said. “We offer short and focused training that can help you start a new career.”

Virginia Infrastructure Academy will coordinate existing infrastructure courses across the state’s 23 community colleges, such as the VWCC heavy equipment program, developed in collaboration with local contractors, he said.

“That’s why we’ve got these courses, we didn’t just make them up out of the air,” Hayward said. “They are in-demand, and match the needs of employers in the area.”

It’s training that takes weeks, not years, and VWCC helps connect students to local employers, he said. Through a state program called Fast Forward, eligible participants can have two-thirds of their tuition paid for with incentives and scholarships.

“We have some high-quality, in-demand training programs that are extraordinarily affordable, almost free in some cases, given all the state incentives that are available,” Hayward said. “We would love to introduce so many new populations to what it means to be a in a precision machining career, or in mechatronics careers that don’t necessarily require a college degree.”

He said just recently he heard from numerous machining and manufacturing plants in the region practically begging for workers. With state funds from the Virginia Infrastructure Academy, Hayward said he hopes to get the good word out about school’s programs.

“We’re using our VIA budget to boost marketing and outreach efforts, to ensure that more Roanokers and more people in the region are aware of what we’re doing,” Hayward said. “We’re including more people from more neighborhoods, so that everyone benefits.”

Similarly, New River Community College also plans to use the funds for outreach, according to a written statement from Mark Rowh, vice president for workforce development and external relations.

“New River Community College ... offers a number of programs that fall under the umbrella of the initiative,” Rowh said. “Expanded marketing efforts should help more potential students become aware of training options, in turn leading to a larger pool of skilled workers needed by employers.”

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Luke Weir covers higher education and state government. He can be reached at (540) 566-8917 or

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