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Katherine Dorman, Manager of Human Resources for Columbia Gas of Virginia, standing at the front of a computer lab classroom speaking to Career Tech Academy students.High school Career Tech Academy students from Charlotte, Mecklenburg, and Halifax Counties, recently explored careers in energy with guest speakers and hands-on activities.

In the photo, Katherine Dorman, Manager of Human Resources for Columbia Gas of Virginia, speaks to CTA-Mechatronics students about opportunities the company offers to workers with the education and skill set these students are acquiring.

Statistics show that approximately one-third of Virginia’s current energy workforce will be eligible to retire by 2025-2026, creating countless opportunities for employment. Developing a talent pipeline to meet the workforce demand with qualified candidates is critical.

In-demand careers include engineers, line workers, construction, technicians and welders across all sectors of the industry, yet career pathways and classes leading to these energy jobs tend to get hidden within the Virginia Department of Education’s 16 original career clusters.

This past spring Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam approved legislation creating a 17th career cluster in the commonwealth’s education system, focusing entirely on energy. The Energy Career Cluster, once implemented, will introduce students to career opportunities so they may focus their education on the jobs needed to meet the industry’s growing workforce needs.

Stephanie Robinson, administrator of the Career Tech Academy (CTA) at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC), recognizes the importance of such a career cluster for area students.

“With the Energy Career Cluster being developed, it is important for the CTA to support this initiative,” she said. “We have been working closely with several energy business partners as we recognize the upcoming employment gap within the energy field.

“This early exposure, both educationally and with hands-on training and activities, shows our students how their prospective fields are incorporated into these energy careers,” she continued.

To that end, SVHEC invited speakers during Careers in Energy Week to draw attention to the wide range of opportunities CTA students could find in the energy field. Remy Pangle, director of theremypangle web Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Energy at James Madison University, Katherine Dorman, Manager of Human Resources for Columbia Gas of Virginia, and Pam Taylor, Fast Forward Career Coach for Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC), each gave presentations, focusing on wind and alternative energy and education/employment opportunities in the energy sector.

“Thanks to innumerable partners, SVCC is positioned well to provide stackable credentials in support of building Virginia's future energy workforce,” said Taylor. “Our Power Line Worker Training Program and the Solar Panel Installer Program provide a pathway for entry level positions leading to apprenticeship opportunities, while our Associate Degree Program for Power Line Journeymen offers opportunity to pursue career growth in the energy and utilities construction fields.”

Continued activities throughout the week had students researching energy careers and creating Powerpoints with career projections, education and training needed, job availability by region and annual income.

Careers in Energy Week activities culminated in the CTA entering into the 2020 Get Into Energy Innovation Challenge sponsored by the Virginia Energy Workforce and Virginia Chamber Foundation in which students will tackle a sustainability-related energy challenge designed by industry partners from January through March. Student teams will present their solutions at a Shark Tank style Competition in March in Richmond.

If you would like more information on the Career Tech Academy, contact Stephanie Robinson, CTA administrator at 434-572-5497 or stephanierobinson@svhec.org, or Debra Woltz, CTE coordinator for Halifax County Public Schools at 434-575-2013 or dwoltz@halifax.k12.va.us.