The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) honored 16 exemplary career and technical education (CTE) programs and partnerships at the annual Creating Excellence Awards program in Richmond on June 14.
The Western Virginia Water Authority (WVWA) received the “Business and Industry Partnership Award” after being nominated by Roanoke County Public Schools. The county schools and the WVWA have partnered to establish an apprenticeship program which allows high school students to work as paid employees to earn key industry certifications that will help them develop skills and gain experience as they progress toward potentially high-wage careers with their partner business.
“As a division superintendent, I saw firsthand the value of K-12 partnerships with community colleges and local employers,” Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said. “The combined efforts help maximize the potential of every learner and provide transformative educational opportunities with companies that provide real-world experiences for students.”
The VCCS Postsecondary CTE State Awards were presented in three categories as follows:
- Advisory Committee Award — Diesel Mechanics Technology Advisory Committee, nominated by Rappahannock Community College
- Business and Industry Partnership Award — Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, nominated by Eastern Shore Community College
- CTE Program Award — Computer Science program, nominated by Lord Fairfax Community College
The VDOE Secondary CTE awards were given in three categories as follows:
- Advisory Committee Awards
- State and Region 5 – Louisa County Public Schools’ CTE Advisory Committee, nominated by Louisa County Public Schools
- Region 2 – Virginia Beach Public Schools’ School of Practical Nursing Advisory Committee, nominated by Virginia Beach Public Schools
- Region 4 – Foundation for Applied Technical Education Advisory Committee, nominated by Fairfax County Public Schools
- Region 6 – Auto Body and Auto Tech Advisory Committee, nominated by Pittsylvania County Public Schools
- Business and Industry Partnership Awards
- State and Region 2 – Riverside College of Health Careers, nominated by Newport News Public Schools
- Region 1 – Chesterfield Fire and Emergency Medical Services, nominated by Chesterfield County Public Schools
- Region 4 – George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences Biomedical Institute, nominated by Alexandria Public Schools
- Region 5 – Bath, Alleghany and Rockingham Counties Electric Cooperative, nominated by Rockbridge County Public Schools
- Region 6 – Western Virginia Water Authority, nominated by Roanoke County Public Schools
- CTE Program Awards
- State and Region 2 – ASSIST Student Help Desk program, nominated by Newport News Public Schools
- Region 1 – Utility/Heavy Construction program, nominated by Goochland County Public Schools
- Region 3 – Horticulture Sciences program, nominated by Richmond County Public Schools
- Region 6 – Nurse Aide program, nominated by Pittsylvania County Public Schools
Mike Altizer from the WVWA was on hand for the presentation, along with Roanoke County School Superintendent Dr. Greg Killough, WVWA Human Resources Director Neil Norris, and Jason Suhr, Director of Career & Technical Education for Roanoke County Schools.
Altizer, who formerly served on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors and Roanoke County School Board representing the Vinton Magisterial District, was instrumental in establishing the apprenticeship program which brought together the school system and local businesses, beginning with the WVWA.
A pilot program was begun in the fall of 2017 between the two entities with a handful of students and has now expanded to include at least four other companies. In recent weeks 20 additional Roanoke County students signed as Student Registered Apprentices.
Companies currently participating in the Student Registered Apprenticeship Program in addition to the WVWA are G&H Contracting, Wabtec–Graham White, Southern Trust Home Services, and Balzer & Associates.
Altizer says that the idea for the program originated with a “paradigm shift,” in which companies, such as the WVWA, faced with an improving economy and lower unemployment rates were paradoxically having difficulty recruiting new employees. The school system in the same time period had been looking at ways to expand career and technical education programs so that students left high school “ready to work.”
“For several years, we’ve heard from countless businesses and organizations that have expressed their frustrations when it comes to finding skilled workers,” said Killough at the apprenticeship signing ceremony. “Businesses are losing some of their most experienced workers due to retirement, yet there are not many young people who are available to take those jobs.”
What makes the Student Registered Apprenticeship Program so beneficial is the flexibility it offers to both the schools and the partner business. Students are able to enter into the workforce where they are needed. The schools could not afford to train such small numbers in industry-specific content in a cost-effective way.
Students begin learning about the partner company, and begin to develop related skills, years earlier than if they waited until they graduated from high school or college. More importantly, the students begin to develop a relationship with the partner business that potentially leads to a long-term, high-wage career.
Altizer says that by the time they graduate, students will be able to earn two nationally recognized credentials– a Class 4 Water Operation license and a Class 4 Wastewater Operations license and will be ready to take on a high-wage career with the WVWA. They will have spent about 2,000 hours in training on the water side and 2000 more hours on the wastewater side.
In addition to learning the processes for water and wastewater treatment, the WVWA plans to add a distribution component to the training, teaching student to use technology to read radio meters, as well as installation of meters which will involve some plumbing skills as well.
Altizer emphasized that establishing the apprenticeship program took a tremendous amount of work for the partners involved, as they collaborated with each other, the Virginia Department of Education, and the Department of Labor.
Altizer says that the end result of the program is that students train to “come into a profession” when they leave high school, “not just a job.” They are paid to work as they learn and will be able to earn a good wage. The program is a way to develop future workers by starting out with students–growing new workers from within. Hopefully one result will be keeping young adults in the valley who do not have to move away to pursue well-paid salaries and career opportunities.