Apprenticeship grant boasts first graduate in valley

Mitchell Atkins

MOUNT JACKSON – The Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board has its first apprenticeship  graduate in a program funded by a federal grant.

Mitchell Atkins, 27, an industrial electrician at Bowman Andros, is the first person in a region that encompasses Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C., to complete a registered apprenticeship process under the Department of Labor’s American Apprenticeship Grant.

The Department of Labor awarded $175 million in grants to 46 grantees nationwide. Two of those grantees are located in Virginia. The Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board is one of them, receiving $4 million in October 2015 to facilitate the education and training of registered apprentices in a myriad of high growth fields.

Atkins spent 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 576 hours of classroom instruction in the program. He was given credit for much of those requirements due to programs he’d already completed during high school at Triplett Tech and afterward at Lord Fairfax Community College.

“It was a four-year apprentice-type program,” Atkins said. “So after high school I did two more years and finished all four years and got a certificate and all that. I never did anything with it, then I started to work here and realized that it would benefit me greatly to do something with it, so here I am doing it.”

The grant was designed to encourage increased knowledge of apprenticeship programs in the commonwealth, something that Debby Hopkins, workforce officer and project director for the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board, said is vital.

“We’re working with the State Apprenticeship Agency to go into companies and ours is targeted towards manufacturing so we’re going to the manufacturing companies who have either never had an apprenticeship program to explain what it is and how it can help them. … Our grant provides funds to help encourage the companies to start programs or expand them by giving them (companies) 50 percent of the cost of tuition.”

Kenneth Milnes is West Virginia’s state director for the Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship. He said that he hopes that this grant process will increase the apprenticeship numbers in the state and said that apprenticeships and the companies that offer them are crucial to the economy.

“President Obama stated in 2014 that we have 375,000 registered apprentices nationwide,” Milnes said. “He put a request out there that we double the amount of apprentices in the next five years. So between 2014 and 2019, we’re to go from 375,000 apprentices to 750,000. Right now we’re at 500,000 apprentices nationwide.”

The president isn’t alone in his push for higher apprenticeship numbers. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has pushed for those increases in Virginia as well, said Hopkins.

“Our governor has had a very strong registered apprenticeship initiative,” she said. “It’s a movement that’s very much needed for these skill trades.”

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137, ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com.