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Workforce grants cut cost of credentials

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has announced the launch of a new grant program designed to ensure that workforce credentials are accessible and affordable for Virginians seeking the skills they need to obtain good-paying jobs in high-demand fields.

The New Economy Workforce Industry Credentials Grant program covers 124 different community college training programs at Virginia’s Community Colleges geared toward providing workforce credentials at one-third of their former cost.

“This program establishes a first-in-the-nation performance funding formula to create and sustain a supply of credentialed workers who meet the needs identified by our business leaders,” McAuliffe stated in a press release.

Virginia’s Community Colleges consulted with Virginia businesses to develop the list of eligible credentials that can provide access to a wide variety of high-demand jobs, such as certified welder, electrician, medical records tech, computer network specialist, pharmacy tech, digital security specialist, emergency medical tech, industrial machinery mechanic, dental assistant, and commercial truck driver.

The Virginia Board of Workforce Development identified more than 170 in-demand jobs aligned with the commonwealth’s economic development targets for which Virginians can prepare through the new workforce program.

These are jobs that require specific skills, but not necessarily a traditional college degree. Community colleges are making it even easier to earn workforce credentials by developing new programs and adding classes and locations for increased convenience.

“To create the skilled workforce the commonwealth needs now and in the future, we need more options for training and credentialing that work for Virginians of all ages and life circumstances,” Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones stated in the release. “With the New Economy Workforce Credentials program, for the first time, we have new options for workforce training and development that promptly get trainees into the skilled labor force.”

Research indicates that these workforce credentials are in high demand across Virginia and will be for the foreseeable future. The company Burning Glass produced a recent report indicating that there were more than 175,000 job vacancies in Virginia last year for so-called middle-skill occupations, the types of jobs that typically require some type of credential.

The jobs paid more than $28 per hour (or more than $58,500 per year). According to the research, the jobs went unfilled for an average period of 26 days, which is longer than the national average.

As a result, Virginia businesses lost 36.4 million hours of productivity. Virginia families lost more than $1 billion in potential wages, and Virginia’s General Fund lost more than $54.3 million in revenue.

Other studies predict that Virginia will have to fill more than 1.4 million jobs during the next decade. As many as two-thirds of those positions will require postsecondary level workforce credentials.

Students enrolling in one of the workforce credential training programs covered by the new grants will pay only one-third of the normal cost. Program costs vary widely, depending on the length and complexity of the training.

For a list of programs covered by the grants, visit the Virginia Community Colleges website at www.vccs.edu.

The maximum value of each grant is $3,000. For example, a student who enrolls in and successfully completes a grant-eligible program that normally costs $4,500 would now pay $1,500, with the grant covering $3,000 of the cost. Additional financial aid can offset even more of that cost.

“These workforce credentials increasingly represent the American Dream in the 21st century,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges.

“Individuals earn these credentials in weeks and months, not semesters and years. Those students are often quickly employed by businesses hungry for their skills. And they accomplish all that without piling on a decade’s worth of student debt.”