Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rappahannock Community College offered welding training classes for adults at their Westmoreland Workforce Training Center in both the day and evening. These classes were full and supplied a trained welding workforce to various industries around the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula and Fredericksburg areas.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rappahannock Community College shut down their in-person classes until practices and policies could be put in place to protect the health of participants and instructors during training. This caused all sources of income to pay for the rent/lease of the building for the upcoming year to cease and the center would have had to close.

Westmoreland County, Northumberland County, the Northern Neck Planning District Commission, and Rappahannock Community College partnered together and received $36,000 in GO Virginia Economic Resilience and Recovery (ERR) funding to pay costs associated with running the building for one year while Rappahannock Community College found ways to resume in-person training.

Welding instructor Matt Ingram with student

The mission of GO Virginia is to create more higher-paying jobs in traded industry sectors in Virginia through business-led regional collaboration. Welding and machinist jobs in the Northern Neck and broader region continue to be in high demand. Retraining workers displaced by the pandemic is an integral part of the economic restructuring that must occur for the economy of the Northern Neck and greater region to stabilize and recover from the economic shock of the shutdown.

In the first six months of the project, Rappahannock Community College has been able to reopen in-person training to welding and machinist students. Sixteen welders have been trained and 14 have graduated. Six credentials were awarded and four are awaiting test results. Machinist classes run from September to February. In the Northern Neck, welders earn on average $713/week, while machinists earn on average $800/week.

Dr. Shannon Kennedy, President, Rappahannock Community College stated “Excellent participation continues for these classes. We are indeed fortunate to have outstanding instructors who foster and instill in their students the desire and knowledge to pursue career goals in the trades of welding and machining.”

The project anticipates that 30 welders will be trained and 15 hired and 10 machinists will be trained and 5 machinists hired over the next year as a result of the project.