Technical education and jobs in technical fields carry a stigma even though they can offer high-paying jobs and fulfilling careers.
That is a challenge educators and workforce leaders face.
“There are a ton of jobs that we don’t need a four-year college education for,” Gov. Ralph Northam said during a visit Wednesday morning at Danville Community College, where he listened to input on workforce development from leaders in the Dan River Region and beyond.
More than 100 people attended the event at DCC’s Student Center.
Northam’s visit to Danville was part of his statewide workforce development listening tour. Its purpose is to hear from Virginians about the needs of workers and employers in communities throughout the state.
“We’re always excited to have the governor on our campus,” DCC President Jacqueline Gill Powell told the Danville Register & Bee before the event.
It was the governor’s second visit to DCC in a little more than a month.
Gill Powell said she hopes one reason the governor would visit DCC is because of the work it does along with Pittsylvania County and the city to bring economic development to the region.
DCC offers precision machining and welding programs at the school, with George Washington High School and Pittsylvania County offering those programs to its students so they can earn credits toward their certifications.
Besides the stigma associated with technical education, leaders also brought up other such challenges as poverty and those faced by children being born in a rural area, with its limited access to technology.
In addition, Virginia has a shortage of career counselors in its schools, Northam pointed out.
There are 450 students for every career counselor in the state, he said.
“We need more counselors in our schools,” he said. “We need to get it down to 250-to-one.”
As for the issue of stigma on technical jobs and technical education, Patrick County Director of Career and Technical Education Robin Ferguson said there needs to be a statewide campaign or message to combat it.
“There are amazing jobs and opportunities and they [students] can make a good living doing what they love,” she told Northam.
One major issue employers faces in workforce development: job applicants failing drug tests, Delegate Danny Marshall, R-Danville, pointed out to Northam.
There needs to be a statewide program or a pilot project in the Dan River Region to address the problem “to get people clean, to pass a drug test and stay clean,” Marshall said.
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.