Virginia Community College Hopes New Tech Center Will Deliver Needed Skills

The center, part of a public-private partnership, will offer training and certification in such areas as 3–D printing, fiber optic cable technology and drone building.

by Cathy Jett, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. / June 8, 2017 0
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(TNS) -- Virtual sparks flew as Gary Seal demonstrated the proper welding technique using a portable simulator at Germanna Community College’s new Fredericksburg Center for Advanced Technology.

 

Students can use it to practice over and over without the risk of burning themselves or wasting supplies until they master the necessary smooth and slow movement, the GCC technical training consultant said during Tuesday’s grand opening for what will be known as FredCAT.

Welding is one of a number of apprenticeships that the facility at 1315 Central Park Blvd. will offer in its classrooms and labs beginning in late August or early September. It also will offer training and certification in such areas as 3–D printing, fiber optic cable technology and drone building.

In addition, FredCAT will rent incubator spaces for startups and a Makerspace where students and entrepreneurs can design, prototype, collaborate and hold meetings to support local technology and manufacturing startups. There’ll be a “repair café” where people who are building or repairing high-tech equipment can work together, and there’s a possibility that summer camps for children will be available next year.

“We also want to have job fairs for employers who are looking for these skills,” said Martha O’Keefe, associate vice president for Workforce and Professional Development at the Germanna Community College Center for Workforce and Community Education.

Germanna decided to open a Center for Advanced Technology in Fredericksburg because there wasn’t one in this part of the area that the community college serves, President David Sam said before cutting the ribbon to the new facility.

“We have the Daniel Center in Culpeper, but people in Fredericksburg think it’s a long way away,” he said to attendees’ laughter.

Sam added that city officials were thinking along the same lines, and City Council and the Fredericksburg Economic Development Authority each voted to provide $125,000 for the center in $25,000 installments over five years. That, and other state and federal grants, helped make the center possible at a time when Germanna was facing a $1 million less in funding than the previous year.

“So here were are now at the Fredericksburg Center for Advanced Technology, where you’ll find old-fashioned trades like masonry and plumbing, which by the way pay very well,” he said, “as well as new as 3-D printing and modeling and drones.”

Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw called FredCAT “a wonderful collaborative partnership,” and congratulated everyone involved.

“There is little [that’s] more important today for our community than workforce development,” she said. “Not only do we owe it to our citizens to give them every opportunity to develop or retrain themselves, we also owe it to our community to have the workforce in place that we need to attract the businesses that we want.”

FredCAT also fits into City Council’s new vision plan, which includes an emphasis on lifelong learning, Greenlaw said.

Virginia, like a number of other states, has begun focusing on careers in trades and other occupations that require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree, said Craig Herndon, the Virginia Community College System’s vice chancellor for Workforce Development. These tend to be middle-class jobs that pay, on average, $58,000.

“It’s probably not news to you that about 175,000 jobs in Virginia go vacant each year,” he said. “Every day they go vacant, Virginia has missed out on income; every day they go vacant, Virginia businesses go absent the skills they need to be successful; and for a state government guy like I am, every day they go vacant, Virginia misses out on income tax that fuels our government.”

Herndon noted that while other community colleges in the state also offer the types of training that FredCAT will, it is unique because of its many public/private partnerships.

Among those partnerships is the Virginia Education Center for Asphalt Technology laboratory, which was made possible through the efforts of Germanna’s Center for Workforce, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Asphalt Association. FredCat has one set up inside its building, plus a mobile unit that can be used for outreach to sister community colleges. There’s another at Virginia Tech, where FredCAT students can transfer to complete a four-year degree in asphalt technology.

“I call it climbing the ladder of success,” said Ben Sherman, business and career coordinator at Germanna’s Daniel Technology Center in Culpeper.

©2017 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.