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College’s program helps fill job needs

Two years ago, several thousand local jobs in the Fredericksburg area went unfilled because of what many call the “skills gap.”

In 2012, more than 3,560 job openings were available in Fredericksburg and its four surrounding counties. Often these jobs stay vacant because of a lack of necessary knowledge or skills.

“People in our area need jobs and local businesses need employees who are trained for the hard-to-fill positions,” said Jeanne Wesley, vice president of workforce and community relations at Germanna Community College. “We can help close the skills gap through affordable, short-term workforce development training. We help prepare them for a career not in years, but in weeks.

Rep. Eric Cantor, who represents the Culpeper region, visited GCC’s Daniel Technology Center to discuss the House-passed SKILLS Act and see how its Center for Workforce and Community Education was working to meet this need.

“Congressman Cantor asked to visit and was interested in how community colleges were working with local businesses to better assess their needs and better train our students to be skilled and career-ready,” said David Sam, Germanna Community College president.

The SKILLS Act was passed in the House last March but has not been acted on by the Senate.

The act is meant to streamline federal job training programs, eliminate roadblocks for individuals to access training they need and strengthen the relationships between community colleges and training programs, Cantor said in a letter.

GCC has resources, including career coaches for both adults and high school students, pre-employment training and skills assessment, and the SkillUpVA program.

“Virginia’s community colleges play a critical role in higher education and workforce development,” Cantor said. “The Germanna Center for Workforce and Community Education is leading the way through SkillUpVA program, which provides people with the skills required to get good jobs that need to be filled right now. By focusing on job training and skills education we can see more people get back to work.”

SkillUpVA was launched by GCC’s Center for Workforce and Community Education to give individuals the skills necessary to gain and keep jobs in an economy marked by an ever-growing technological jump.

On a tour given by Ben Sherman, business and career coordinator at Germanna, and Sam, Cantor was shown many of the technologies and machinery used to help prepare and train individuals with hands-on experience.

“I interview guys every day who don’t have the knowledge and basic skills they need for the job,” said Tim Dunbar, an apprentice in the industrial maintenance program at Germanna. He is currently employed with Eurocomposites. “We aren’t catching them soon enough. We need to catch them in high school.”

GCC and Cantor agree that early exposure is extremely important.

“High school students are graduating lacking the skills needed to join the workforce, and Germanna can help fill that need,” said Cantor.

Germanna offers students the ability to get an early start with programs such as dual enrollment and the Germanna Scholars Program starting in the fall of 2014.

Many local businesses have partnered with GCC.

“Great program at Germanna which allows us [Continental] to build up current employees and also be able to hire new employees who are skilled and ready to work,” said Jordan Ward, engineering manager at Continental, an automotive supply company.

“The program is helping us [Cintas] identify qualified, career-ready workers by helping us staff the right person for the job and saving us time and effort,” said Ken Greenfield, general manager at Cintas.

Katelyn Leboff: 540/374-5417