2020 Hire Education Conference spotlights the training needs of essential workers

Home|Blog|2020 Hire Education Conference spotlights the training needs of essential workers

The VCCS Hire Education Conference has always been dedicated to learning and sharing, leadership development, innovation, and collaboration. But organizers argued that this year the event was even more essential as our colleges face unprecedented challenges in health and safety, joblessness and underemployment, not to mention the uncertainty about when regional economies will recover.

This year’s virtual conference November 5-6 also spoke clearly to the VCCS commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
In the conference’s opening keynote, Dr. Dionne Felix, a certified faculty developer and AVP of Southern Adventist University, addressed head-on the need to meet the needs of minority students, challenging white faculty members to be more sensitive to and cognizant of the way society views and treat students of color.

“Privilege is about access to resources and systems, and the opportunity to be what you can be. It is about being identified as the norm…so your normalcy is the backdrop against which most students of color are defined as ‘abnormal,’” said Felix.

“And I know that sounds really strong but that is the reality, and understand that this is not an indictment. We have to focus on building a support system for all students regardless of color. Our students, unfortunately, don’t feel sometimes that they are in a place of safety.”



Tamar Jacoby, president of DC-based non-profit Opportunity America, warned that the already disruptive drive to automate many jobs in the marketplace is only being accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. And she urged colleges to form truly responsive partnerships with employers to ensure the relevance of workforce and career training programs.

“Ultimately, employers in your service area are your customer, and you’re the vendor,” said Jacoby. “A lot of educators bristle at this, they feel they know how to teach and train.”

“But and I’ve seen this countless times when employer-driven or employer-centric partnerships work: educators come to appreciate the relationship because your training is better. More of your students get jobs. The power dynamic may occasionally rub you the wrong way. But in the end, everybody benefits.”



This year’s Hire Education Conference also recognized the outstanding contributions of members of the VCCS family who have done extraordinary work to develop and promote workforce development programs that boost Virginians to a brighter future.

Expanding Opportunities Award

The conference’s top award recognized Dr. Al Roberts, who retired last year after a five-year presidency at Southside Virginia Community College. The award citation noted that Dr. Roberts “served with distinction, demonstrating a remarkable commitment to his students, regional employers, and the entire community surrounding Southside Virginia Community College. Humble, devoted, principled, savvy, and personable – these are all qualities he possesses in large quantities; indeed, they are words that have often been used to describe his leadership style.”

View the video presentation here.


Outstanding Achievement by a Faculty/Staff Member

James E Leech has contributed to the success innumerable initiatives, programs, and most of all, students’ and co-workers’ lives. He currently serves Blue Ridge Community College as an instructor in the college’s robust manufacturing program. Prior to joining BRCC, Leech had a distinguished career in manufacturing, where he displayed an unmistakable expertise and enthusiasm for all things mechanical. One of the nominations for this award put it this way: “Jim Leech is a passionate teacher with a big heart – and one of those handful of ‘go-to guys’ many of us in the Shenandoah Valley have learned from experience is the right pick.”

See the video presentation here.


Outstanding Achievement by a Rising Star

Alyssa Hawley, joined Patrick Henry Community College as Fast Forward Coach in July of last year and very quickly distinguished herself as a rising star, proving to be invaluable to the college and her students, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted normal instruction practices and forced many courses online.
Hawley created, deployed, and reassessed various ways to support students whose college experience was turned upside down. And as classes were migrated online, she made sure students knew what to expect and how to fully utilize Canvas to their advantage.

View the video presentation here.

Outstanding Student Success Story

Bobby French faced and overcame significant personal challenges, completing substance abuse recovery in addition to passing courses in digital literacy and job readiness…all on the way to enrolling in the Commercial Driver’s License program taught in partnership by Patrick Henry and Southside Virginia Community Colleges.
Said French, “Some days it doesn’t even seem real, I tell God thanks so many times over. I needed guidance. So many people poured into my life to help me.”
With his CDL, clean and sober, French is earning a good living, and is raising his son.

See video presentation here.

Outstanding Business Partnership
OrthoVirginia and CVCC
This year’s award for Outstanding Achievement – Business Partnership Leading to Industry Credentials goes to Central Virginia Community College and OrthoVirginia and their Senior Human Resources Generalist, Caitlin King. OrthoVirginia worked extraordinarily closely with CVCC to develop an innovative new FastForward Hybrid Apprentice Medical Scribe Professional Program. CVCC’s involvement in this fast-growing area of the medical field ensures local students receive cutting-edge training as they pursue positions throughout the region’s healthcare industry.

View the video presentation here.


Sessions from this year’s conference were recorded when possible and uploaded to the Hire Education website. You can access them here.
Anyone interested in accessing these sessions who was registered will be able to do so through February 5, 2021.

And VCCS faculty and staff who did not register for Hire Education can still do so, and access the recorded sessions through Feb. 5.
To register please visit: https://cvent.me/3E0LQP

Save the Date: With hopes that we will meet in person next year, please save the date for the 2021 Hire Education Conference, tentatively planned for November 10-12, 2021 at the Omni Homestead Resort.


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