In just two years, the Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing Inc. (SVAM) has exceeded expectations to alleviate a shortage of qualified factory
workers in Smyth and Washington counties. The work-force development organization originally planned to train 94 job applicants and existing workers in
factory skills. It ended up exceeding that goal, training nearly 900 workers.
The organization, which got its start as the Smyth-Washington Regional Workforce Consortium in 2006, was incorporated as SVAM in November 2007. It is the
first rural program in the country to participate in the “Dream It. Do It” campaign. The National Association of Manufacturers’ Manufacturing Institute
designed that project to address a scarcity of manufacturing workers nationwide.
The local training effort was funded by a $900,000 Virginia Works Grant, as well as grants totaling $290,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Commission. Smyth and
Washington counties, which fund the administration of the program, now boast more than 90 manufacturing companies.
The key to SVAM’s quick success, says CEO Bruce Kravitz, was a willingness to try new ideas. Most work-force development programs rely on an open-enrollment
approach, in which workers sign up without any guarantee of a job at the end of training. SVAM turned the model around, letting manufacturers identify
qualified job candidates for training, as well as current workers who needed to improve their skills.
“We then used the grant money we had to train those people,” Kravitz explains. “So not only are we getting a more qualified work force, but those people
we’re training are already employed. And because the training enabled some employees to get promotions within the company, that, in some instances, created
more entry-level jobs.”
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