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Northam Hears From Business Leaders in Harrisonburg

Randi B. Hagi

Governor Ralph Northam visited Harrisonburg Tuesday afternoon to hear from more than 50 local business leaders, workers, and city and county administrators about the area’s job market. WMRA’s Randi B. Hagi reports.

How can state government help local businesses, colleges, and universities create the workforce of the 21st century? Governor Northam held a listening session at Harrisonburg’s ICE House with local business leaders and healthcare professionals to find out.

One of the themes that emerged was the need for efficient “re-training” opportunities for adults who want to change careers. Lord Fairfax Community College president Kimberly Blosser said that the average age of returning students at her institution is 35. And many of them are struggling to make ends meet in their current job.

Credit Randi B. Hagi
Lord Fairfax Community College president Kimberly Blosser and Northam get feedback after the session.

KIMBERLY BLOSSER: There are still many individuals in our communities that still need our help, and you certainly need in your workforce.

Mike Shelton is the owner of Blue Ridge Machine Works in Grottoes. 

MIKE SHELTON: Find somebody that’s in their thirties, wants to change careers, they want to come to work for a place like mine, but it’s going to take, you know, three to four years to get through that program ...

Several attendees brought up the need to reach school-aged children to teach them about highly skilled career opportunities that don’t require a four-year college degree.

Northam acknowledged that, on average, school counselors in Virginia have a caseload of 450 students, which limits their ability to advise students on their individual career aspirations. 

Others commented on the stigma that surrounds trade careers such as machining.

Credit Randi B. Hagi
Mike Shelton, owner of Blue Ridge Machine Shop in Grottoes, talked about the challenges in retraining older workers.

SHELTON: It’s not your father’s machine shop any more.