VHCC tech center to expand welding, diesel tech
Demand for welders is so great that some of Eddie Fultz’s Virginia Highlands Community College students are being hired for part-time jobs while they’re still completing their training.
“We’re in a manufacturing area where we cannot meet the demand,” says Fultz, coordinator of VHCC’s welding program. “It’s a great problem to have for the college. It’s a great problem to have for people graduating from the program.”
But, he says, the program doesn’t have the capacity to meet its training needs.
That will change this fall with the completion of a $6 million, 18,000-square-foot facility at VHCC that will expand the college’s welding and diesel technology certification programs and bring the off-site programs onto the college’s Abingdon campus.
The Advanced Technology and Workforce Development Center is “specifically designed to meet the industrial needs of our community,” says VHCC President Adam Hutchison. “These are two programs that have high demand and have great-paying jobs at the other end of the training.”
The building also will house the college’s workforce development division, which provides customized training programs and credentials. Welding and diesel courses currently are offered in separate off-campus spaces that both programs have outgrown, Hutchison says.
“We’re going to triple the size,” Fultz says of the welding shop, which is now under 2,000 square feet. With additional welding booths, the number of students will rise from 32 to 48. The diesel program will increase from 32 to 40.
Bringing the programs onto campus will also connect the students, who earn career studies certificates, to other VHCC resources.
Hutchison credits the “very forward-thinking” design and build team at Bristol, Tennessee-based BurWil Construction Inc. for designing a flexible facility that could be adapted for changing needs, such as VHCC’s plans for adding an alternative fuels vehicles repair program.
VHCC broke ground on the center in November 2021. It’s the first major facility to be built on campus since 1992.
The project is being funded through private gifts, grants and institutional funds. The largest contribution comes from an anonymous community member connected to an industry that employs VHCC graduates, according to Hutchison. The Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission contributed $1.3 million.
Although most of the funds have been raised, Hutchison says, there’s still a $1.5 million funding gap “we’d like to close” in order to equip the facility “in a way best for students.”