Thomas Nelson Part of Three-College Collaboration | Thomas Nelson Community College

Thomas Nelson Part of Three-College Collaboration

January 29, 2021

Thomas Nelson, Tidewater and Paul D. Camp community colleges have some of the same programs, business partners and interests. And since some of their students are from the same geographic areas, it’s easy to think of them as competitors. 

But with the formation of the Community College Workforce Cooperative (CCWC), the institutions are exploring what can happen when they think “Collaborative, not competitive” to reach common goals. 

“All three of our schools serve the shipyard with welders. We all three have what they call a pre-hire program, and we serve them, not only with welding but with lots of different things,” said Dr. Susan English, Thomas Nelson’s vice president of Academic Affairs and Workforce Development. “I think the point was how to get a common contract and really help plan for some of these large needs.” 

An example she cited was what if Newport News Shipbuilding needs to hire 5,000 welders in a three-year span? 

“Well, none of these schools can do that,” she said.  

However, the three can work together to meet that need, which is where the CCWC comes in. The group includes Executive Director Todd Estes of Virginia's Community Colleges (VCCS), the colleges’ three presidents and each school’s workforce development leaders. 

 “This is like having a point person over that to build the contract that the customer wants, and then to work with the colleges to make sure, that together, we deliver,” English said. 

The seven CCWC members convened in Hampton Jan. 25 for their first meeting with Thomas Nelson President Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon serving as host. Brannon, Estes and English were on hand at the Peninsula Workforce Development Center. Participating via Zoom were Camp President Dr. Dan Lufkin, Camp Workforce Development Director Angela Lawhorne, TCC President Dr. Marcia Conston and TCC Workforce Development Director Tamara Williams. 

The group discussed CCWC’s mission and outlined everyone’s role and expectations during the nearly 90-minute meeting. The overarching theme was “Collaborative, not competitive.” 

English said, “All the presidents signed an MOU (memo of understanding) for what this organization would be like.” 

John Tyler and J. Sargeant Reynolds, both serving the Greater Richmond area, have a similar collaboration called Community College Workforce Alliance (CCWA). English said VCCS Chancellor Dr. Glenn Dubois was behind the push for establishing CCWC. 

“He said he wanted something similar in the Hampton Roads area,” English said. “Now, he did not say it had to be that format. He just wanted something similar.” 

While their goals are similar, CCWA and CCWC differ in a sense. The Richmond-area community colleges do not have their own workforce development programs. If students in that area want to obtain a skill that falls under workforce development, they would go to the CCWA. Each school in the CCWC has its own workforce development program. 

“In this scenario, basically, Todd Estes is going to work for us, the colleges,” English said. “He’s going to be that liaison out there, that salesman, if you will, with our larger partners, and developing, listening to what they need and developing contracts that all three of us will work to fulfill.” 

Thomas Nelson, TCC and Camp will continue to have separate Workforce Development centers. English said she hopes the CCWC will lead to increased programming and increased training at each college.  

“Our hopes are that we’re offering more workforce training across the region,” she said. 

The next steps include regular meetings, refining objectives and goals, and soliciting feedback. But hopes are high. 

“I absolutely believe we will be successful,” Brannon said. 

Added Lufkin: “This is a model that could go national.”