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Featured Article: Investing Today for Tomorrow’s Workforce

Shipbuilding/repair employers are experiencing a mass exit of an aging workforce and are desperate to fill these positions with skilled employees. Employers have sought pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship as a strategy to develop a skilled workforce, standardize training, improve employee retention, increase productivity, and strengthen future leadership.

In contrast, K-12 educators are experiencing a resurgence in Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs. While high school students learn valuable trade skills and earn sought after industry credentials, many do not have access to work-based experiential learning opportunities, thus making it difficult for students to obtain employment upon graduation. A pre-apprenticeship program exposes students to industry, introduces industry terminology, provides on-the-job training, and sets industry skill standards. It also creates a career pathway into an entry-level position or apprenticeship position.

 Likewise, employers benefit from a pre-apprenticeship program by gaining access to youth who have an interest in the industry, support from K-12 partners while interacting with students, cost-saving benefits in the hiring process should a student continue in a pathway for employment upon graduation, and the ability to shape and develop the skills of potential employees. Pre-apprenticeship programs are an ideal strategy for creating a defined pipeline into the shipbuilding/repair industry as it connects students to employers.

Tidewater Community College (TCC) Apprenticeship Institute engaged CTE directors from regional public schools, VSRA, and shipbuilding/repair partners to develop a regional framework for a pre-apprenticeship shipbuilding program. This initiative sought to capitalize on existing CTE programs and post-secondary education strengths while creating a regional program that would engage employers in a structured manner, promote trust, collaboration, and practical student outcomes.

The program currently targets high school welding students, many who are dually enrolled and receiving both high school and college credit. Now entering its fourth year, the program has been well received by students, parents, school partners, and employers. The number of participating companies has also increased as they see the value of investing in high school students in hopes of hiring these students upon graduation. Pre-apprenticeship has allowed the region to scale up its efforts in a coordinated and cohesive way to encourage regional workforce development.

TCC serves as the intermediary for the program by organizing guest speakers, events, and tours. Participating companies commit to engaging with the students by sending company representatives to share vital information about the industry, address employability skills, and provide an overview of their company. If possible, companies are requested to host shipyard tours and interview graduating students.

The program is expanding to incorporate paid internships through a partnership with Hampton Roads Workforce Council (HRWC). Pre-apprenticeship students will be eligible to apply for a summer internship position. Wrap-around employment and supportive services for the student and company will be provided by HRWC at no cost to the company.


Karen Miller is the Program Coordinator for the Tidewater Community College Apprenticeship Institute, which partners with employers to develop customized and sustainable apprenticeship programs, as well as coordinate related technical instruction for apprentices.

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