The new school building at Virginia Technical Academy (VTA) has a plumbing room, an electrical room, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) room, a room filled with home appliances and room for traditional and non-traditional students seeking a career in the high-demand skilled trades. According to the academy’s website, the “Virginia Department of Labor and Industry predicts the average unfilled demand for skilled tradesmen in Hampton Roads to be 35 to 40 percent from 2020 through 2026.”
David Gillespie, owner, founder and director of education, explains that most trade schools are connected to community colleges that require a high school diploma or equivalent and some entrance testing. Gillespie’s “aha moment” was to realize that he could bring into his school students who never saw a reason to read well or do math but who would thrive in a school where 40 to 50 percent of the work is hands-on. The performance-based school teaches the necessary academics that clearly serve understandable, real-world purposes that lead to great paying jobs.
“Our graduates can start at jobs paying $15 – $18 per hour, and they progress upwards as they achieve additional certifications. In addition to career-switching adults, we accept students who didn’t finish high school. Once on board, if they cannot read well enough to do the work, we guide them to the GED program that we have partnered with to get them up to speed. And, we help our students obtain grants if needed.”
Gillespie continues, “We’re nationally accredited and getting a lot of notice, acceptance and support from local, state and federal agencies in the labor and workforce world. The City of Newport News and its elected officials have been amazingly supportive of everything we have undertaken. We appreciate their interest and guidance.”
Newport News Mayor McKinley Price expressed his pleasure at the opening of this new learning institution. “We are excited that Virginia Technical Academy has decided to open its doors in Newport News,” he says. “Trades workers are in high demand. By offering quality training and certification programs in appliance repair, HVAC, plumbing and electrical fields, VTA provides residents with the knowledge and technical skills needed to fill those positions, which can lead to fulfilling and financially rewarding careers. We look forward to having graduates of VTA join our dynamic skilled workforce in Hampton Roads.”
Gillespie says VTA grew out of two years of intense business planning and development. “The school has evolved over the last five years, and we have now expanded into a new school facility on Omni Boulevard. Ten years ago, I used to invite homeowners into my little mom and pop shop, and I’d teach them a free four-hour homeowner’s class,” he says. Gillespie still owns Blue Crab Appliance Parts as well as another company called Tru Blue Appliance Repair.
A twice-retired Coast Guard Master Electrician, Gillespie pumps the life force into the academy. After doing pro bono work, Gillespie gives away pay-it-forward coins that say “Help Someone in Need.” Gillespie credits his formative years in the Coast Guard for his work ethic and his understanding of how to take care of people by training them, supporting them, helping and developing them. “When I can help and mentor and support a student so he or she can support a family, then I’ve done something. The real story is what happens when one generation can support a family and create the next generation. I live a very busy life and when I get up in the morning, I feel good every day.”
TO THE POINT:
Virginia Technical Academy
Address: 809 Omni Blvd.,
Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: David Gillespie, owner, founder, director of education
Business: School for skilled trades