Governor Northam has signed legislation establishing the first information technology apprenticeship program in Southwest and Southside Virginia during a ceremonial bill signing at the Patrick Henry Building. During the 2019 General Assembly Session, Senator Ben Chafin and Delegate Terry Kilgore carried Senate Bill 1495 and House Bill 2185.
The newly formed Rural Information Technology Apprenticeship Program will place IT workers in an eighteen-month apprenticeship with small, rural technology businesses. The apprentices will be paired with mentors within the company and receive on-the-job training for the purpose of enhancing their experience and skills. Once the eighteen month apprenticeship has been successfully completed, the apprentice is automatically hired by the company.
After the bill signing, Senator Chafin stated, “This public-private partnership will give residents and the young people of Southwest Virginia new opportunities to gain technology job experience while continuing to work in Southwest Virginia. It is my expectation that the new program will slow down the rate in which the youth of our region are exiting for other opportunities. The key to the success of the apprenticeship program is the guarantee of a job through workforce development. The program will make Southwest Virginia a more attractive location for prospective companies to create jobs in the growing information technology industry.”
Participating technology companies must be headquartered and operated in one of the qualified localities in Southwest and Southside Virginia and they must have fewer than 100 employees. Wize Solutions, located in Abingdon, is one such small technology firm that is looking forward to participating in the program. Dario and Wendy Marquez, the founders of Wize Solutions, attended the bill signing along with their team from the company.
Following a very successful tenure as the manager of CGI in Lebanon, Mark Eschle joined Wize Solutions in 2018 as the Vice President of Operations. After attending the bill signing he stated, “The uniqueness of this program is that it can be used by small businesses that are already headquartered in rural Virginia to create new, exciting job opportunities in the IT industry. I look forward to the day when Southwest Virginia is thought of as a hub for technology talent. It will be a place to which small and large businesses alike will be drawn to because of its reputation for high quality education programs, a robust IT talent pool, and a fantastic quality of life.”
The apprenticeship program will be coordinated by and housed at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center. The Center offers degrees and programs from numerous colleges and universities in the region and throughout the Commonwealth. It is the legislators’ plan that the local community colleges participate in order for the program to be accessible throughout Southwest and Southside Virginia.
Delegate Kilgore concluded by stating, “Higher education and workforce development are key factors to growing our economy and creating new jobs. We have some of the finest higher education institutions in Virginia and the nation here in Southwest Virginia. This IT apprenticeship program will utilize these economic engines to attract new jobs and train the next generation of the workforce to provide more opportunities in Southwest Virginia for our youth.”