Mark Hourigan column: GO Virginia FAME program builds regional workforce

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By Mark Hourigan

At a time of continuing economic disruption, supply chain challenges and workforce shortages, businesses and colleges are coming together to build the pipeline of people who will be ready to work in the emerging industries of the future. This is particularly true in advancing the transformation of manufacturing in the greater Richmond area, as we move to more technology-focused and enabled processes in pharmaceuticals, logistics and other advanced manufacturing sectors.

Started in 2016, the GO Virginia program, which was advanced by many of the commonwealth’s top business leaders to help address the changes in the state’s economy, provides competitive grants to support programs to advance site development, entrepreneurship and small-business growth, and innovation. In fact, the GO Virginia program provided the seed funding to start the pharmaceutical research and manufacturing cluster emerging between Richmond and Petersburg.

One of the most exciting programs associated with GO Virginia is the establishment of a new initiative to link students interested in manufacturing careers with internships and apprenticeships. Through the internships, students earn valuable workplace skills and better position themselves for future jobs. The Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education is a national program sponsored by The Manufacturing Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers. FAME currently serves 400 manufacturers in the U.S. and has 34 chapters.

With GO Virginia funding, the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, together with Richard Bland College of William & Mary, launched the Central VA FAME chapter in the spring of 2021. Since then, they have received financial support from Prince George County and the Cameron Foundation to grow the initiative. Dozens of other partners — including Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia State University, Virginia’s Gateway Region, GENEDGE, Brightpoint Community College, regional planning districts and others — also have been advisers and supporters of this effort.

Mark Hourigan

The work-study program is based on a classic apprenticeship model, and its industry-led curriculum is the first of its kind in Virginia. Trainees are earning an average of $18 per hour, and some have access to other perks from their employers such as tuition reimbursement, health benefits, 401(k) match and stock options.

This unique blend of on-the-job training and one-on-one mentorship, while earning a comprehensive associate degree combining technical skills with soft skills, is a winning combination for manufacturers throughout this region. While Central VA FAME trains for advanced manufacturing technicians today, these students are on the fast track to becoming future leaders in the field.

Nine manufacturing companies currently are participating in Central VA FAME, including Amsted Rail, AMPAC Fine Chemicals, Blueprint Automation, Civica Rx, G.D. USA, EPT Connectors, Niagara Bottling, Phlow Corp. and Sabra Dipping Co. And there’s plenty of room to grow this exciting effort.

We recently had the chance to learn more about Griffin Krell, a graduate of Deep Run High School in Henrico County and a current Central VA FAME program trainee with AMPAC. He noted the program is providing the framework for the type of work he wants to do long term.

In other words, this is more than just a way to earn money — it is leading to a career. Managed by Thomas Midgette, a former Navy aviation electrician and a local high school assistant principal, FAME is exactly the sort of program we need to build more pathways to get our kids into fulfilling, lifelong jobs that are growing our economy.

Over the coming weeks, the General Assembly will be considering budget amendments proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin to provide additional support for talent pathway programs across the commonwealth like FAME. These are truly investments in our future and what Virginia needs to be competitive in the changing 21st-century economy.

Article originally posted by The Richmond Times Dispatch on Feb 20, 2022.

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