By Jonah Grinkewitz

One of the goals laid out in Old Dominion University’s 2023-2028 Strategic Plan is to develop corporate and community partnerships that spur economic development in Hampton Roads and beyond. To that end, Sarah Jane Kirkland, associate vice president for corporate partnerships, recently traveled to Stuttgart, Germany, with educational, business and city leaders from Hampton Roads.

The goal: to learn about the country’s Vocational Education Training (VET) model and how it could be applied to our region.

The trip was hosted by the Hampton Roads Alliance, Hampton Roads Workforce Council and Virginia Beach Department of Economic Development. The delegation included presidents from Tidewater, Paul D. Camp and Virginia Peninsula community colleges; Centura College; ECPI University; and mayors from Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Hampton.

Germany’s dual-track VET program, a model that has existed for 150 years, supports around 1.3 million apprentices each year to fuel the country’s high-tech industries. In addition to using their facilities as training sites, German employers often share input on curriculum, instructors and equipment used to train students on the technologies and tools that they will use in the workplace.

“The key takeaway from this mission trip is the critical importance of intentionally engaging business and industry partners of all sizes in the educational ecosystem,” Kirkland said. “Germany has created a mechanism where the two complement each other to create a robust pipeline of talent that can adapt quickly and adeptly to their industry and business needs.”

The delegation spoke with students, school administrators and company leaders to identify ways the VET model could be adapted within Hampton Roads’ education ecosystem. They also visited the corporate headquarters of STIHL and IMS Gear, manufacturers with facilities in Hampton Roads and Germany, to understand how the companies rely on apprentices within the local secondary education system to fill workforce demands.

Next, the leaders from the trip have agreed to focus on collaboration between high schools, universities, community colleges and technical colleges in Hampton Roads to emulate attributes of the VET program. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the member institutions and partners is being finalized.

“This workforce readiness initiative fully aligns with the strategic vision of Old Dominion University, and we are eager to support and advance the work of this coalition,” said ODU President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D. “We are working more closely than ever with our business community to create a talent pipeline that has a meaningful impact on our region.  It is through this important work with our valued partners that we will create greater opportunities right here in our region for generations to come!”

Kirkland, who became AVP for corporate partnerships this past spring, said the VET program showed that the educational system needs to be prepared to receive workforce training at many different entry points.

“Collectively, higher-ed can play a crucial role in helping to better educate families, K-12 teachers and guidance counselors on the types of business and industry opportunities here in the region,” she said. “I am excited that ODU has the opportunity to play a role in shaping what this might look like for the region, and how closely this aligns with our forward-focused vision for the institution.”