Northern Virginia’s community colleges are among several in the state gearing up to train thousands of workers to help rebuild the commonwealth’s aging roads and bridges and bring much needed upgrades to airports, ports and utilities statewide.
The Virginia Infrastructure Academy (VIA), announced on Aug. 11, will coordinate, scale up and replicate successful infrastructure-related community college training programs, which now produce 4,000 graduates annually, with a goal of producing a total of 35,000 qualified workers over the next five years.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden last November, commits $1.2 trillion nationwide in the next five years for transportation, clean water, solar and wind energy, expansion of affordable broadband and more. Virginia is poised to receive at least $10 billion, with much more expected to come through competitive grants and other measures.
According to labor market analytics firm EMSI, Virginia companies already are struggling to fill more than 100,000 infrastructure jobs.
“The availability of a trained, skilled workforce continues to stand out as a significant challenge to infrastructure construction and maintenance industries in the commonwealth,” said Dr. Sharon Morrissey, interim chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. “Through the VIA initiative, we will continue to leverage resources, expand collaboration and provide short-term industry training and credentials leading to employment for thousands of Virginians.”
The VIA aligns community colleges with business leaders to ensure that existing training programs are addressing urgent community needs and forecasting future requirements for expansion. Those programs include heavy construction and maintenance, focusing on road, bridge, and tunnel construction; broadband expansion; and on- and off-shore wind and solar energy infrastructure and distribution, which all lead to high-paying jobs and career advancement opportunities.
“This is vital to the success of many Virginia businesses,” said George “Bryan” Slater, Virginia Secretary of Labor. “Our infrastructure workforce demands are growing daily, and initiatives like the Virginia Infrastructure Academy will help ensure that skilled and qualified people are available for hire, leading to a best-in-class workforce in Virginia.”
The Lumina Foundation is funding the VIA’s start-up costs with a two-year, $400,000 grant. That funding supports an initial review of existing infrastructure programs across Virginia’s 23 community colleges, a plan for initial program growth through in-person and virtual offerings, and outreach to potential students.
Individuals who elect to pursue training in a high-demand infrastructure field may find them to be among the most affordable options in higher education today. FastForward, G3, and other available financial aid programs may allow students to pursue and complete these programs for little or no out-of-pocket costs.