Caption: Thinkstock/Dmitry Kalinovsky

Free Retraining for the Newly Unemployed

By Reyna Gobel

Virginia Community College System is funding a retraining program for dislocated workers.

Community colleges have a long history of serving the needs of their communities. One critical way they do this is by retraining workers whose skills no longer match what local employers need.

Case in point: Through the On Ramp program, the Virginia Community College System is providing funding to state community colleges to retrain dislocated workers for new career-specific jobs.

New River Community College (NRCC) in Dublin, Va., is one of the colleges offering On Ramp.

How does On Ramp work? The On Ramp program targets Virginians who have been laid off, have had a small business fail, are returning to the workforce to support their family because of changed circumstances, or have left or are about to leave the military.

Students at NRCC find out about the program through the state’s Workforce Development Office or from college staff who visit companies that are about to lay off employees. Interested students take academic assessment tests and career interest profiles to help match them with careers they might enjoy.

“The On Ramp program wouldn’t be successful if we threw students into classes to train for high-demand careers they don’t want to pursue,” says Mark Rowh, vice president for workforce development and external relations at NRCC. Seventy-five percent of NRCC students enrolled in On Ramp in the 2013-2014 academic year completed the training program they selected.

NRCC students in On Ramp receive an annual average award of $2,000, on top of Pell grants and other financial aid, Rowh says. The On Ramp grants cover all tuition, related fees and book expenses.

On Ramp students at NRCC are encouraged to enter one-year programs in areas such as office skills and welding. Each community college involved in On Ramp has different programs. For instance, Danville Community College offers health care training.

Rowh offers three tips for community college administrators considering similar retraining programs:

  1. Spend time on assessment. A correct assessment of what classes students are prepared to take as well as their interests can determine whether or not they complete certification programs. Students might also need developmental courses to help them succeed in a program.
  2. Provide ongoing coaching. After not being in school for several years, students may need extra help as they progress through the program. The On Ramp coordinator is their point person for any questions and can refer students to helpful resources.
  3. Develop a career plan. Getting a student into classes isn’t the goal of On Ramp; coordinating a timeline and arranging training to return to the workforce is.

Annemarie Jasko took advantage of On Ramp at Virginia’s Danville Community College. Find out how the program is helping her become a respiratory therapist in this local news report.


Reyna Gobel

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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