Ignite program receives $250,000 GO Virginia grant: Funds to bridge gap between worlds of education, employment


Photo above: Southwest Virginia teachers spend a day working at Mohawk Industries as part of the Ignite program. Photo courtesy United Way of Southwest Virginia

By Scott Robertson

The Ignite program of the United Way of Southwest Virginia received a $250,000 grant from Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) April 10 in Richmond. The funds will be used to fund an internship project as part of a collaborative effort to align school curricula with local employer needs.

The two-year Ignite program includes a capacity-building platform that provides activities to encourage post-secondary education, streamlines work credentialing, provides work-based learning opportunities and matches new graduates with local employers through a web-based platform. The program was born of a concern that too many students being produced by the education system were not ready to enter the workforce. A recent study found that while three out of four teachers believe they were sending work-ready students into the community, only 50 percent of employers agreed with that assessment.

“United Way of Southwest Virginia is excited to build upon the success of our current Ignite Program aimed at connecting the worlds of learning and work, by adding a new component – internships,” Chrystal Brown, director of Education for United Way of Southwest Virginia said. “Through the internships component of the Ignite Program, we will partner with 17 school systems to align credentialing, create meaningful project-based learning, and offer invaluable work experience so that Southwest Virginia’s young people graduate from high school career ready and actively engaged in their communities. We are grateful for the support of GO Virginia, and we look forward to our continued collaboration with students, parents, educators and employers to inspire and equip tomorrow’s workforce, together.”

Mike Quillen, chair of Region One expressed his enthusiasm for this project and applauded the concurrence of the State Board. “I think this is one of the more innovative and promising projects for the future of not only Southwest Virginia, but the Commonwealth. Coordination between our secondary schools and prospective employers is critical to educating our young people in opportunities available to them, providing skills and experiences that will make them and our region’s workforce more valuable. Providing our existing and future employers with a skilled and informed workforce is a win-win”.

GO Virginia issues grants to each of its nine regions on a per capita basis. The GO Virginia per capita grant funds will be used to implement projects that align with each region’s Growth and Diversification Plans. These plans provide an honest assessment of the economic, workforce and structural barriers in the region, as well as the existing regional economic drivers and potential growth sectors in each region.  Projects that address these challenges and opportunities represent a first step toward the creation of higher paying jobs in the regions.

In addition, all nine regions will compete for more grant funds later this year. The first round of statewide competitive grants is expected to be awarded in June 2018.

The GO Virginia State Board was highly impressed with the project and acknowledged it as a model for the state. The GO Virginia Region One Council recommended the Ignite Internships program to the State Board at the March 2018 meeting.

“The nine GO Virginia regions have been working diligently over the last year to drive innovative projects that address each region’s specific workforce economic development needs,” said GO Virginia Board Chairman John O. “Dubby” Wynne.

“The Commonwealth’s approach to economic development is forward-thinking, focused and in tune with national and global trends, which is clearly reflected in the projects that were approved today,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Esther Lee. “GO Virginia is an innovative approach that supports the best opportunities for creating higher-paying jobs in every region of Virginia.”

“GO Virginia is inspiring the innovative thinking that will help to push Virginia’s economy forward,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “It is encouraging to see how coordination between the state and our higher-education partners is helping businesses take their operations to the next level and to create opportunities in every region of the Commonwealth.”

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