Thursday, January 9, 2020

CCWA’s FastForward Program: 

Catching the Growth Tsunami

If you think the world is growing fast, you’re right.

If you think Virginia is growing fast, you’re right again.

And Richmond? 
It feels like a tsunami. Blink, and you’ll miss a new business opening. Take a vacation, and a new convenience store or apartment building will have sprung up in your neighborhood.

We are growing. And, here’s proof. 

  • In 2019 CNBC named Virginia, America’s Top State for Business. Why? Because of “its world-class workforce, high performing education system, and business friendly regulation.”1
  • From November 2018 to November 2019 an estimated 40,100 jobs were added in Virginia.2 The hottest job areas? Manufacturing and warehousing, education and health care, leisure and hospitality, food and beverage, professional and business services, and information security.

Here’s the good news: 
CCWA’s FastForward Program caught Virginia’s growth wave long before it reached its current tsunami. In 2016 the program got started by offering credentials in the key areas of health care, trades and manufacturing, information technology, business and customer service, and education. A perfect match for Virginia’s current and emerging employment needs.

Here’s even better news: 
In the current fiscal year CCWA’s FastForward program took the lead again as one of just two Virginia community colleges with the greatest growth rate in credential training program enrollments. “We are number two for FastForward enrollments in Fiscal Year 2020, number two for FastForward credential attainments, and we’ve ranked at or near the top for credentials awarded since the FastForward program’s inception in 2016,” says CCWA Vice President of Workforce Development and Credential Attainment Elizabeth Creamer.  “We’re always in a race with Germanna,” Creamer smiles when she adds this. 

Now, with the help of unprecedented proposed state funding3, FastForward is ready to move even faster in 2020 to meet Virginia’s ever-growing employment needs. “We’ve never gotten state-level public funds like those now proposed by the Governor’s budget for FastForward. These funds can be dedicated to skills development for any adult in the region who is interested and ready to prepare for a high-demand occupation readily available in the region” says Creamer, “This funding gives opportunities to young adult students, to at-home parents reentering the workforce, to Career Switchers and transitioning service members, and to employees wanting to increase their marketability. FastForward credentials are designed to open doors to the jobs most in demand in the Commonwealth right now.” This proposed new funding would make it possible to open those doors even wider than ever before.

“We need many routes to success for young people, hardworking parents, and anyone else who wants to earn better wages, and a FastForward workforce credential is a proven route to success,” continues Creamer. And she has the numbers to back up that statement. Since the program’s inception over 16,000 credentials have been earned across the Commonwealth, with more than 2700 of those through CCWA.  Graduates typically boost their earnings 25 to 50 percent in the first year following program completion. And, with a FastForward credential an applicant is twice as likely to be hired as an applicant without a credential.4

Yes, this program fills gaps – a skills gap in potential employees, a workforce gap in the labor market – but, more than just training and jobs are happening here. FastForward is a quick uplift on a rising wave, but it isn’t a one-time event or fix. Rather, it’s an uplift that can entirely change the course of a lifetime. 

Consider William Penaloza. William is originally from Equador. He wanted a new career after working in retail. Through FastForward he earned his CDL (Commercial Drivers License) and was hired immediately by US Express. William says, "I am grateful for the experience, the training staff and for the grant support." With a baby on the way, William is driving locally now, but he hopes to go over the road later when the child is older. "It was helpful to have trainers that partner with companies who hire CDL drivers." In William's case, the rising wave lifted three lives, not just one.

What’s next for FastForward? What could this additional proposed funding make possible? “New, more and customized credentials,” says Creamer. “The idea would be to work with a business association or a large business to combine third party validated industry credentials into a FastForward program of “bundled” credential training and assessments. For example, a company might want manufacturing, safety, and customer service credentials.  Another trend in FastForward programming is career pathways. In some FastForwad programs, not all, we’re already working with academic faculty to have credentials “count” for college credits, so participants in FastForward are always moving and preparing for the next step in their education.”

In a state, and a city changing so rapidly, the FastForward program is good news - a lifeline, a buoy, a ship - that has already helped its graduates ride the wave of growth rather than be roiled by its current. Just imagine what the next two years could bring with the support of the proposed new funding. 

To learn more about CCWA’s FastForward Program, visit their website.

1. CNBC website, 7/10/2019.
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2019.
3. On December 17, 2019 Governor Northam announced the proposed 2020 to 2022 state budget which included $13.5M this year for FastForward, $17.5M in 2021, the $21.5M in 2022. This funding is 100% dedicated to tuition support.
4. FastForward website,