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Education considerations in workforce training

For the last two sessions of the General Assembly, I have proposed major changes related to workforce training. Each year, after passing the Senate, it has been left in the House of Delegates’ Committee on Appropriations. We did, however, get a small amount, with the help of the Governor, in the budget as a trial of my legislative proposal.

My proposal would fund our community colleges when they change workforce training from associate degree programs to certification programs. Currently, the community colleges get paid for degree programs but not certificate programs.

Providing funding in this way encourages them to offer more focused training that can take place in a shorter time frame than the traditional two year degree programs. In addition, the student would need to receive independent certification of skills prior to the community college receiving funding. This results in three valuable goals. First, it encourages the instructor to work to today’s standards. Second, it encourages the college to make sure the student receives independent certification.

Third, it gives the college motivation to offer additional training to those that fail to pass certification on one part they have not mastered rather than requiring the student to retake the entire class.

I will try again this year. This time around we not only have the support of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, but also we have evidence that faster training is possible.

Working with Fort Lee, they allowed two dozen soldiers leaving the service to go to Southside Virginia Community College Greensville site for three and a half months. Each has now passed independent certification and each has received job offers.

Now, instead of floundering around seeking employment, each will be a tax paying citizen.

Recently in a presentation before business leaders, the leadership of the Federal Reserve pointed out the shortcomings that we have nationally in education. First is the lack of skilled tradesmen to replace those who will be retiring in the near future. We are trying to address this as detailed above.

The second is that we have too many high school students who have no intention of going to college and, therefore, do not believe that high school has any value to them. Several years ago we started asking school systems to offer a better education plan for those who wanted a career without traditional college.

We started requiring our high schools to offer better occupational training that could start young people toward a rewarding career. That was a start, but we can do better and are in some school districts.

The third point that was made is that we can do better preparing our students at every level with investment having a greater impact with the youngest of children. However, their findings were that the most effective thing that can be done is in the first eighteen months of a child’s life, when their brain is first starting to process the world around them.

That early processing is the foundation on which all other learning is based. Assisting families during these formative months will serve our young people throughout their education and the rest of their lives.

We all can understand that if we work on all three of these issues, early childhood involvement, middle and high schools better focused on direction and workforce training, we all win.

Frank Ruff, a Republican, represents Lunenburg County in the Virginia State Senate. His email address is Sen.Ruff@verizon.net.