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Prince William County:  Transforming the talent pipeline into a strategic workforce engine

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In a world of global competition and rapid innovation, we took a deeper look at one of Northern Virginia’s leading jurisdictions – Prince William County - to uncover what is responsible for its economic success and how it is helping to shape the Northern Virginia region.  As one of the largest and fastest growing counties in Virginia, Prince William County’s Department of Economic Development recorded $800 million in capital investment and 954 new jobs in 2017; marking its fifth-consecutive record-breaking year. 

So what is its secret sauce?  Simply put, “Prince William County’s ability to provide easy access to 1.5 million regional workers delivers highly skilled employees with some of the most sought after capabilities and experience, not found elsewhere,” said Jeff Kaczmarek, Executive Director, Prince William County Department of Economic Development.  “This, combined with the majority of the workforce being culturally and linguistically diverse, provides a compelling labor resource to employers in global markets.”

Forty-four percent of adults hold at least an associate’s degree, while fourteen percent hold an advanced degree - 1.4 times greater than the national average.  Not surprisingly, Prince William County’s talent pipeline is ranked among the best in the nation.  Much credit for its highly skilled workforce goes to its excellent educational institutions and private partnership programs.  The collaboration between institutions and businesses begin in Prince William County Schools (PWCS) K-12 via its dynamic specialty schools and career and technical education (CTE) programs and follows through into its higher education programs.  “Our primary focus is generating an unparalleled talent pipeline of students that are ‘career, college and life ready’,” shared Douglas Wright, Supervisor, PWCS Career and Technical Education.

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), the largest public educational institution in Virginia and second-largest community college in the country, remains deeply committed to investing heavily in the future of the region’s workforce.  As one of the leading technology-focused community colleges in the nation, its strategic focus is to be the number one technology community college nationwide, aimed at keeping businesses globally competitive.

With over 7,000 yearly graduates, NOVA has become the go-to workforce solution for many regional businesses operating across the spectrum of industries and sectors, from federal agencies to large, medium and small corporate enterprises, even startups.  How has NOVA been able to do this?  By focusing its workforce readiness strategy on what it refers to as the four Ps - People, Partnerships, Programs and Places.  

To this end, NOVA has committed $30 million towards the construction of its newest facility - Battleview Technology Center - that will serve as a training and education center for companies.  Due for completion in spring 2019, its build-out plans include a maker space to house flexible work areas and a range of making technologies; a mechatronics space; and a fabrication lab funded by a Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) grant with support from Micron Technology, U.S. Army’s Night Vision and Sensors Directorate and BAE Systems.  The new Center will be in Manassas and follows on the heels of NOVA’s Regional Center for Workforce Education and Training (WRC), located in Woodbridge.

Purpose-built, WRC delivers highly specialized continuing professional education to meet the technological demands of businesses, government and military, providing programs in information technology, cybersecurity, healthcare, heavy equipment training and program management.  In 2017, 105 businesses and 1,152 students passed through WRC’s doors.

Being in close proximity to two major military installations – Marine Corps Base Quantico and Fort Belvoir – NOVA recognizes the potential of highly-skilled military personnel to provide solutions to many of today’s workforce challenges. 

“A real strategic workforce and economic advantage to being here is that it is between Quantico and Fort Belvoir.  Military installations are a huge workforce engine, in that regard,” shared Scott Ralls, NOVA President, when speaking about the WRC.

NOVA is at the forefront of developing programs designed to tap this pool of active duty and transitioning military personnel, as well as veterans.  Through its Office of Military and Veterans Services (OMVS), NOVA provides comprehensive resources to veterans and military related personnel who are utilizing VA and tuition assistant educational benefits. 

In 2017, NOVA in collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched its Amazon Apprenticeship Program – the first of its kind on the East Coast.  The goal of the program is essentially two-fold: to train veterans in Northern Virginia and to fill a growing need for tech-talent in the region.  The success of this program has led both NOVA and AWS to seek to expand the program nationally.  To that end, NOVA is collaborating with Columbus State Community College and AWS Educate to develop a new cloud computing degree that will allow for AWS certification.  

NOVA’s extensive network of partnerships also extends to other educational institutions including the PWCS K-12 system by offering teacher training and dual enrollment options for students interested in a range of disciplines.  Through its Guaranteed Admissions Program, NOVA’s students are guaranteed admission to more than 40 area colleges and universities (including nearby George Washington and George Mason Universities (Mason)).  Its reduced tuition fees also increases affordability for residents who might not otherwise be able to entertain the idea of tertiary education and, in that role, NOVA has also become an important catalyst for social mobility and equity within the region.

The County’s K-12 system itself has earned some highly notable achievements and accolades being the fourth largest school system in the Greater Washington metropolitan area.  In Virginia, PWCS’ total 2017-18 enrollment was 89,861 students, which is equivalent to approximately seven percent of the state’s student population.  On-time graduation rate is 91.8%.   Moreover, during the past five years, PWCS students have earned over $208 million in scholarships.  

PWCS’ Administration strives to ensure that all public schools have at least one business or community partner.  This translates into more than 1,000 division-wide partners.  The K-12 system also strives to ensure that all children are exposed to as many fields of study as possible and that their ultimate area of specialization is interest-driven.  In addition to their core learning, students are able to choose from ten specialty programs.  Among these specialty programs and services is the Governor’s School @ Innovation Park, which provides an alternative learning environment, where high school students can complete coursework at Mason in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses.

By joining forces with NOVA’s SySTEMic solutions STEM outreach program, PWCS students engage in STEM learning in elementary school and continue to be inspired to continue to pursue STEM education in high school, college and beyond through this ‘collaborative ecosystem of partnerships’ with school divisions, higher education institutions, employers and other institutional stakeholders to create a sustainable workforce pipeline.

In addition to its specialty programs, PWCS offers students a range of career pathways through its CTE program.  Arguably, one of the best in the Commonwealth, PWCS’ CTE program is preparing students for careers in high-demand fields, such as: cybersecurity; IT; biomedical sciences; medical; and health science, through the ability for them to gain industry credentials before graduating or earn college credits to fast track their tertiary education.
In total, there are six campuses of higher education in Prince William County that include: Strayer University; Stratford University; ECPI University; and American National University.  Also within commuting distance are more than 40 colleges and universities throughout Northern Virginia and the Greater Washington area, including George Washington University, Georgetown University and the University of Maryland.

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