TCC expands Skilled Trades Academy
Portsmouth program trains future skilled trades workers
Tidewater Community College has kicked off the expansion of its Skilled Trades Academy, adding more space and more courses to its Portsmouth facility.
The academy opened in 2019 with 20,000 square feet of space, and currently has three classrooms at 3303 Airline Blvd., which is enough room to hold three to six courses at a time. With the addition of 12,000 square feet, the academy will have seven classrooms and be ready for more students in January 2024.
“We are growing because we want to address our workforce needs in the community,” TCC President Marcia Conston said in a statement. “Students come here with no background in the skilled trades and leave with skills that enable them to provide for their families long term.”
Programming at the academy focuses mainly on maritime skills, including marine coating, pipefitting, pipe laying, welding, carpentry, roofing, sheet metal, wind energy and electric vehicle repair.
With the expansion, TCC plans to add programs in building maintenance, heavy equipment operation, logistics, shipfitting, electrical and HVAC skills.
“When we started looking at where our gaps were, the biggest gaps were in infrastructure-related areas and behind the scenes in maritime … that require hands-on lab space and classroom time,” said Laura Hanson, interim vice president of workforce solutions for TCC.
Additional classroom space means courses can be offered more frequently, and training can be completed in a shorter period of time. Most classes are about three to eight weeks long.
“I think the biggest challenge we face in [the] workforce is getting them into the employment space quickly, giving them the training they need to enter the workforce without taking a financial hit,” Hanson said.
This year, the academy offered 69 classes via open enrollment (meaning open to everyone, not just certain companies who did customized training programs). After the expansion, it will be able to offer 29 more classes.
Major employers, including the Port of Virginia and Newport News Shipbuilding, have acknowledged the need for skilled trades workers in the shipbuilding and repair industries. According to a 2022 Virginia Economic Development Partnership report on Hampton Roads’ maritime industry, the region needs thousands of skilled maritime employees as many workers retire. Meanwhile, the pressure is on to train prospective workers as quickly as possible.
The shortest courses currently offered at TCC’s academy, like forklift operation, take 15 hours total. Foundational courses, such as construction fundamentals, are bigger commitments and are prerequisites for more specialized courses. With more space, TCC’s goal is to shift those course offerings to more than three or four weeks for 20 to 30 hours per week.
“What we’ve learned over the last couple of years doing courses is that’s the timeline that works for folks to go quickly through, but [it] also gives them enough time to absorb the information,” Hanson said.
The expansion will also allow more evening sessions for people working full-time jobs who are looking to either gain skills needed for promotions, or to switch industries. TCC also plans to add more full-time instructors instead of relying on part-time ones. That hiring would take place over the next year or so.
The academy also currently offers customized classes for employers in need of workers with particular skills, including ship repair companies and the Port of Virginia.
The key is to help people gain access to employment opportunities and find pathways to careers, not only through the classes but also through community resources, Hanson said. “We can get them the skills they need, we can connect them to the community resources that will help overcome any hurdles they’re experiencing during their training and then we have established partnerships and relationships with employers.”