The Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) in Prince George is getting set to begin building a new apprentice academy that will give workers the opportunity to get trained and certified in various manufacturing skills.

PRINCE GEORGE — The Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM), based in Prince George, is getting set to expand.

Several weeks ago, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced during his last State of the Commonwealth speech that $12.65 million of state and federal funding will be used to build a new apprentice academy at CCAM, where aspiring workers can get trained and certified in skills like mechatronics, machining and welding.

“We want to be the gold standard for this type of training,” said Bruce Sobczak, the Director of Workforce Development at CCAM. “It’s all industry-driven, employer-centric training.”

First opened in 2011, CCAM has acted as a “collaborative research center” where a wide-range of companies like Rolls-Royce and Canon work on ways to improve and modernize advanced manufacturing techniques.

Several of the Commonwealth’s universities, including Virginia State, UVA and Virginia Tech have partnerships with the center where students can learn with cutting edge manufacturing equipment and graduate with relevant experience.

The new apprentice academy will be built on CCAM’s existing 62,000 square foot campus on Quaker Road in Prince George. The apprentice academy will expand the center by about 36,000 square feet.

“It’s been a consideration since day one,” said Sobczak. “One of the the key things you need is a school that can produce the types of employees with the skills, knowledge and abilities that these companies need. So the academy has always been a part of the plan.”

What It Means

Issue: The Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, based in Prince George, is getting ready to build a $12 million apprentice academy, which will train workers in skills like mechatronics, machining and welding.

Impact: Officials are hoping the academy will help build a strong working class in the area, and provide opportunities for local students looking for jobs in manufacturing.

CCAM officials say this type of training can help create a strong working class in the Commonwealth.

“We’re seeing our neighbors out of work, many military members return from overseas and don’t have anywhere to go, and residents are still getting out of the recession,” said CCAM Director of Development Betsey Odell. “So there is a problem and there’s no easy answer to these challenges, but we believe that a solution can be found by cultivating this ecosystem of advanced manufacturing resources.”

Odell said that a “pipeline of skilled laborers” provided by the academy can also act as a draw for major manufacturers that are looking to set up shop in Virginia.

“We believe that Virginia’s economic future is going to depend on a thriving manufacturing sector,” said Odell. “It’s our job to provide these in-demand jobs that go unfulfilled everyday because there is no skilled workforce.”

CCAM is hoping the academy will give area students who are looking for a career in the manufacturing field opportunities to pursue their interests. More than several school districts in the area have technical centers where high school students can take technical education classes.

“Once we get all the programs developed, we absolutely plan on going to the high schools and getting all these kids who have a technical curiosity and aptitude for hands-on learning,” Sobczak said. “They’re prime candidates to go through these programs and have companies invest in their future.”

This model is what Sobczak referred to as a “earn while you learn” system, where workers can get trained, knowing that a job is waiting for them once they finish.

“The whole idea for the academy is to complete the pathway for advanced manufacturing, where we create as many exit points as we do entry points,” said Jaime Camelio, the Chief Technology Officer at CCAM.

Sobczak added that the academy will enable the students to learn with “like-minded peers.”

In addition to training new workers, employers who are CCAM members will be able to send their current employees to the apprentice academy to continue their development.

Though there is no timeline for when construction will start, officials are hoping the academy is ready by October of 2019, a date that Sobczak called “ambitious.”

“We’ve got the money to build us the building,” said Sobczak. “But we’re not waiting until the building is done.”

A pending $400,000 grant from Go Virginia will allow CCAM to start a pilot program, which they hope can act as a springboard for when the apprentice academy opens.

“We have enough employers interested right now, and they’ll be sending employees that they already have,” said Sobczak.

Along with the pilot program, CCAM will continue to administer its special military training program, where soldiers who are transitioning off a military post can be trained in manufacturing jobs.

“I was approached by a Colonel who asked if I could train somebody in three months in one of these programs, and it just so happened that we were working on the [apprentice] academy programs with hybrid online learning modules. What we did was we took the transitioning military person, and put together a program with seven weeks of online training, and 11 weeks in the lab, where they are asked to get a minimum of five industry certifications.”

The program will eventually be incorporated into the apprentice academy.

“We can get the veterans, the displaced workers and the young people that have been overlooked and underserved, in to jobs that are already in demand,” Odell said. “That’s the approach we’re going for.”

The academy will also act as a place where instructors can come receive training as well as workers.

“We’re going to be just as innovative with teaching as we are with manufacturing,” said Sobczak.

As construction gets underway, CCAM is working on arranging for their member companies to bring in the machinery and equipment academy students will be learning on. This includes a wide-range of impressive technology, like 3D-printers, among other pieces of machinery.

In addition to training workers, CCAM officials say the new academy will enhance CCAM’s role as an economic engine in Prince George, and the surrounding area. Rolls-Royce already has a plant right behind CCAM that manufactures airplane engine components.

“The academy is going to create solid jobs for Virginians,” Odell said. “It’s going to increase the workforce, and increase the amount of businesses who choose to invest here.

“This could be an absolute great opportunity for our own Silicon Valley south of the I-95 corridor.”

•John Adam may be reached at jadam@progress-index.com or 804-722-5172.