As demand for skilled workers grows and people without four-year degrees struggle to find jobs, the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center is working on a plan to prepare students to fill service-sector slots or advance to four-year colleges.
Developed over the last few months by consultants from The Bridge, the plan proposes a set of five institutes, each guided by an advisory team of employers from that field.
The plan also calls for collaboration in each institute between CATEC and Piedmont Virginia Community College. The template would be implemented over the next three to four years.
Students would be guided through each institute between their junior year in high school and second year of college, said Grant Tate, of The Bridge.
“The idea is that within each institute, it will be planned by CATEC, PVCC and employers,” Tate said.
How exactly that collaboration will take shape remains to be seen, said Adam Hastings, CATEC director.
“What we have established so far is consensus that we are going to start forming alliances between Piedmont Virginia Community College and CATEC, but we haven’t started that work yet,” he said.
The CATEC board is expected to consider the plan next month.
Unveiled last week by The Bridge, the blueprint features institutes in customer service, skilled trades, early childhood education, manufacturing and information technology and health care.
All students would be enrolled in a series of self-development classes designed to teach interview skills, career planning and basic problem-solving.
Some students entering the job market lack in those areas, said Kerry Woolard, general manager of Trump Winery.
“It is 100 percent important, and it is arguably more important than their skill set,” she said. “Those life skills and those lessons of understanding how to deal with conflict and with other employees … all of those things are vastly important and I would say, yes, there is a huge gap.”
At Trump, Woolard said, the demand for skilled laborers is high, but the local supply of mechanics, plumbers and HVAC workers is low.
“We have a 1,300-acre farm, and there is just a lot of infrastructure,” she said. “We have one mechanic, and he is so busy that we still have to take stuff into town to get fixed.”
In a business that relies on time-sensitive harvests and spraying operations, a lack of skilled labor poses a challenge.
“Every time something breaks, you have to wait three days for a plumber to come over, but you don’t have three days to wait,” she said. “Everything that we do here is time-sensitive, so if there were workers here for those jobs, we would hire.”
An improved economy is needed to connect graduates with jobs, said Albemarle County School Board member Steve Koleszar.
“Part of this is really a national problem; we have X-number of people, and we only have so many jobs,” he said. “We have far more people who want to work than we have jobs for them.”
If the plan is approved and evolves the way CATEC intends, Hastings said, it will serve as a template for other technical schools around the state.
“We live in a state that is craving a solution to workforce training and to the economic crisis, and, quite-frankly, we have a six-month head start on everyone,” he said.