Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star: Spanberger digs FredCAT certification training

FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE-STAR, STAFF REPORTS

Over the course of his career, Ben Sherman has seen some remarkable students go through the workforce programs offered at the Fredericksburg Center for Advanced Technology. But one stands out.

A single mom with a child whose hairdressing career had been upended by COVID was looking for a new opportunity. She turned to FredCAT, which is run by Germanna Community College, where she learned to operate heavy machinery. “It changed her life,” he told Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D–7th, on Tuesday. “And you can’t put a dollar amount on that.”

Spanberger was visiting FredCAT to learn more about the range of certification programs Germanna offers at its campus in Fredericksburg’s Central Park. Sherman showed the congresswoman some of the machinery used to train HVAC engineers, solar technicians, cybersecurity workers, welders, and FredCAT’s most popular certification program, asphalt technology.

He even gave her a spin in one of the heavy machinery simulators, where Spanberger dug several loads of rock and dirt from a virtual worksite, and then maneuvered the scoop to dump the load in a truck

“Students spend 80 hours on this simulator,” Sherman said, before they’re allowed to put their hands on the real thing.

The simulators run $75,000 to $100,000 each, but in the long run are much cheaper, and safer, to train students on than the real thing, he said.

Sherman, who is the business and career coordinator at Germanna, said since 2016, the school has issued over 11,000 credentials. Last year alone, it awarded 425 to those seeking a CDL license, and another 1,100 in asphalt technology.

A number of those students go on to make six-figure salaries in their fields, he said.

Students come from all walks of life. A recent graduate was a retiree who wanted a second career. He became a heavy-machinery operator at 59.

Most everything on the FredCAT campus is on wheels. That allows the school to pack up the equipment and go where the students are.

As at many schools, however, funding is an issue. In a roundtable meeting with Germanna employees, Spanberger learned about the FastForward program, which uses state dollars to pay two-thirds the cost of select certification programs.

The heavy-machinery program, for example, runs $4,500. With the FastForward program, the state would cover $3,000 of that cost.

For students who can’t afford the one-third remaining, FredCAT tries to secure grants to help the neediest students. But it’s not enough. Employees encouraged Spanberger to open up Pell Grants, which are federal grants that do not have to be repaid, to those seeking credentials like those offered by FredCAT.

It’s an idea Spanberger said she will work to explore.

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