New program teaches underrepresented women trade skills

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Inside Tidewater Community College’s Center for Workforce Training, a group of women is getting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn skills many never thought they’d never get the chance to learn.

Campbell says she tried welding in high school but entered into a different career path.

“I loved it but it wasn’t a career field for women then,” said Danielle Campbell, who is a student in the newly-launched Women in Skilled Careers (WISC) program.

She was recently in another workforce program but it didn’t provide the opportunity to get her to work in the shipyards. So, they referred her to this program, which the Hampton Roads Workforce Council (HRWC) launched at the end of January.

WISC offers six training tracks: marine coating, marine electrical, maritime welding, outside machinist, sheet metal fabrication, and pipefitting.

“This program is really a pipeline to putting women in the ship repair industry. What we’re doing is opening them up to a wealth of knowledge, from soft skills, to job skills, to putting them in touch with industry leaders,” said Latonya English, who is the deputy director at the Virginia Career Works for the Hampton Roads Region. That falls under the Workforce Development Council.

English says it’s a 12-week program that trains women in different trade skills. The first few weeks gear toward soft skills such as interviewing, resume creating, maintaining jobs, and negotiations.

On Monday, the class will start welding, one of a few options the women can chose from.

“After, they’re going to the Virginia Ship Repair to get things like blueprint, OSHA 10, CPR, and first aid, but they will [also] have the opportunity to interview with employers who are looking to hire them,” English said.

She also says the women get the chance to visit shipyards and learn from those in the industry during class.

The WISC program is completely funded through a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. On top of the grant, the Workforce Council is one of three organizations nationwide to receive part of nearly $1.5 million in funding through the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations grant program.

WISC provides stipends for the women during their training, as well as child care and transportation, if needed.

Campbell says it’s very helpful, because not being able to afford the education or being able to take the time away from work prevented her from going back to school in the past.

She says she’s been telling everyone about this program because she knows how beneficial it will be to her family once she gets a job in the field.

“A lot of women are struggling. They can’t make the amount they need to make to take care of their families and still live. So, it’s really empowering. You have a whole career. They’re going to pay you and pay for your school. There’s no excuse at this point,” she said.

And, Campbell is excited to be a part of the inaugural class. She hopes one day she can return to tell others they can succeed at the program, too.

But, what she is really looking forward to is making her children proud.

“Just being able to say, ‘I make a difference at the end of the day.’ I can brag to my babies when I see a big ship and say ‘Mommy works on them.’ Just someone to be proud of. They’re already proud but I want them to know, it’s never too late to start trying something new. If you are scared, try it anyway. The worst you can do is suck at it but, you can only get better from there. I want them to know they can do anything even if it’s out of the norm,” Campbell said.

While Campbell is working to make her family proud, English already is proud of both Campbell and her classmates.

“We get to know who they are, where they come from, and all of their backgrounds. When you see them coming out of being shy and not knowing what to expect, to being confident, to them being interested in their doing, asking questions. It shows we’ve done our job — that the HRWFC has brought together the industry, education, and workforce, and we’ve made it work. It really is a wonderful feeling,” she said.

To apply for the program, visit

Campbell says they give priority to women who are veterans, veteran spouses, or living at or below the federal poverty line. They also prioritize those who are transitioning out of homelessness, human trafficking, or domestic violence situations.

You must be over 18 years old to apply.

The program is in partnership with Thomas Nelson Community College, Camp Community College, United Way of South Hampton Roads, WHRO, Virginia Ship Repair Association, and Tidewater Community College.