Hampton Roads leaders study workforce readiness in Germany

Published 6:23 pm Friday, August 25, 2023

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The Hampton Roads Alliance, Hampton Roads Workforce Council, and Virginia Beach Economic Development hosted presidents and officials of universities, community colleges and technical colleges from Hampton Roads on a visit in July to Stuttgart, Germany — visiting with educational, business and political leaders in the area. 

An HRA and HRWC joint news release noted that the delegation, which included Hampton Roads mayors and business leaders, explored Germany’s dual-track vocational education and training (VET) program, a national workforce development pipeline. The VET program supports roughly 1.3 million vocational apprentices per year throughout the country and operates as the main vehicle driving talent development within the landscape of Germany’s high-tech industries.

Paul D. Camp Community College President Dr. Corey L. McCray; Tidewater Community College President Dr. Marcia Conston; Virginia Peninsula Community College President Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon; Centura College and Aviation Institute of Maintenance Executive Vice President Dr. Joel A. English; ECPI University Campus President Andy Gladstein; and Old Dominion University Associate Vice President for Corporate Partnerships Sarah Jane Kirkland conducted a weeklong visit to apprenticeship sites around Baden-Württemberg, the southwestern region of Germany. The educational and business leaders were joined by Hampton Roads mayors Kenneth Alexander (Norfolk), Bobby Dyer (Virginia Beach), Shannon Glover (Portsmouth), Donnie Tuck (Hampton) and Rick West (Chesapeake).

The delegation visited corporate headquarters of manufacturers, business development offices and the campuses of the technical schools and apprenticeship sites associated with the VET program. This included the Gewerbliche Schulen vocational school in Donaueschingen and the Oscar-Walcker-Shul vocational school in Ludwigsburg. The academic leaders interviewed technical school students, school administrators, company leaders and instructors to identify how best practices from this 150-year-old technical education model could be adapted within the Hampton Roads education ecosystem. 

Leaders from the region’s universities, community colleges and technical colleges shared key takeaways from their visit. 

McCray said, “The German VET program provides a framework for the development of a similar model in our region with student success, workforce and economic development as symbiotic components. I am looking forward to implementing this initiative alongside my counterparts at the other institutions.” 

Conston, TCC’s president, said, “The opportunity to engage with major German industries and educational institutions was invaluable. Many of their best practices and innovation will influence our thinking as we consider ways to strengthen and expand apprenticeship programs throughout Hampton Roads. Hearing from students who started apprenticeship pathways as early as age 14 was impactful for our team, and I am excited about the next steps we will take systematically and strategically to strengthen the region’s workforce.”

ODU President Dr. Brian O. Hemphill said, “This workforce readiness initiative fully aligns with the strategic vision of Old Dominion University, and we are eager to support and advance the work of this coalition. Our strategic plan closely parallels the goals of this initiative, and we are working more closely than ever with our business community to create a talent pipeline that has a meaningful impact on our region.  It is through this important work with our valued partners that we will create greater opportunities right here in our region for generations to come!” 

Gladstein, ECPI campus president, said, “It was inspiring to learn how the German apprenticeship model has evolved to support a culture that recognizes the importance of skilled trades across the economy.”

Brannon, VPCC’s president, said, “Germany is impacted by talent shortages, labor force skills gaps, low unemployment rates and social misperceptions of the career, trades and technical professions, just like we are in Hampton Roads. But the VET program demonstrates how coordinated and intentional investments from businesses and government can support a post-secondary talent pipeline apprentice system to meet employer demands.”

English, Centura College and Aviation Institute of Maintenance executive vice president, said, “It became clear to us that technical education in Germany begins in elementary school and blossoms in high school, and that the innovative manufacturers and industries throughout Germany rely on the workforce development model found in the VET program.” 

One of the key attributes of the VET program is the inclusion of industry partners as investors in the educational model. Not only are the production facilities of manufacturers used as training sites for apprentices, but it is common for German employers to contribute input on curriculum, trainers to oversee the work of apprentices, and training equipment used to teach students on the direct technologies and tools that they will use in the workplace.  

During the week in Germany, the delegation also visited the corporate headquarters of Stihl and IMS:Gear, manufacturers with facilities in both Hampton Roads and southern Germany, to understand how the companies rely on apprentices within the local secondary education system to fill workforce demands.  


As a next step, the academic leaders, mayors and business leaders agreed to focus on collaboration between high schools, universities, community colleges and technical colleges in Hampton Roads in order to emulate the attributes of the VET program.  

“There is clearly both political and financial support for educational pathways in Virginia, and we are hopeful that the educational, political and business leaders are able to work efficiently in Hampton Roads to seize the moment that this mission pulled into focus,” said Hampton Roads Workforce Council President and CEO Shawn Avery.

Based on the delegation’s findings during the mission, next steps will also include conversations with Hampton Roads and Virginia legislators and business leaders to share elements of the VET model that could be effective in Hampton Roads. Modeling many attributes of the German VET program, the delegation has begun construction of a partnership that will bolster economic growth and maximize economic development opportunities in Hampton Roads by creating a skilled workforce ready to meet the demands of key industries. This program will emphasize socio-economic equity, cultural sensitivity and historical awareness of all students, regardless of their backgrounds, while drawing from the German educational model. The program, coordinated by the Hampton Roads Workforce Council, will feature work-based learning, internships and apprenticeships, and collaboration between educational institutions and industry. 

“As the Alliance and Workforce Council draft an MOU between Hampton Roads municipalities, educational institutions and business organizations to articulate the goals of the effort, we look forward to region-wide collaboration, characterized by mutual respect and shared commitments to implementing characteristics of the German educational model,” Hampton Roads Alliance President and CEO Doug Smith said.

The leaders plan to assemble regularly, inviting legislators and business leaders to join the technical education coalition to strengthen opportunities for students in southeastern Virginia and enhance workforce development pathways to support local industry.