New workforce training center in Hybla Valley set to open Oct. 8
With the grand opening of the new Workforce Innovation Skills Hub (W.I.S.H.) at the Hybla Valley Community Center on Saturday, Oct. 8, Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk is fulfilling his campaign promise to deliver in his first term a workforce center in an economically challenged part of Southeast Fairfax County.
When Lusk first hatched his plans a few years ago, his primary focus was on innovation — attracting companies involved with emerging technologies to the Richmond Highway corridor. Over the course of the pandemic, however, as many people in service industries lost their jobs, Lusk shifted his focus to creating employment opportunities. Specifically, his aim is to get unemployed or low-paid workers —those earning less than $20 per hour— upskilled into higher paying and in-demand fields with immediate job placement opportunities.
“Innovation is still part of it, but workforce development is now the focus,” he said.
While building out the new workforce center’s 8,000-square-foot space at the community center, Lusk’s team set about forming partnerships with organizations like Amazon, Dominion Energy and the Inova Health System. According to Lusk, the construction of Inova’s newly planned hospital next to the Franconia-Springfield Healthplex will require thousands of workers, and W.I.S.H. will be working closely with Inova to fill many of those slots. Additionally, Inova will provide instruction at the workforce center and via Northern Virginia Community College to train local residents to fill the approximately 1,200 jobs expected to open up at the hospital.
W.I.S.H.’s free training programs, which begin Oct. 17, are not just for adults already in the workforce, however. Lusk’s team currently is in talks with several area high schools about identifying around 20 students per school to get hands-on experience with emerging technologies at the workforce center. Students from Bryant High School already are slated to participate, said Lusk.
Lusk also foresees opportunities for W.I.S.H. to support Fort Belvoir with the transitioning of soldiers to civilian jobs, and with career opportunities for military spouses. Training community members to fill county jobs in areas like law enforcement is another future possibility, he said.
During a recent walkthrough of W.I.S.H., Lusk explained that Melwood and Building Momentum — operators of the center — will be responsible for the intake of trainees, case management, job placement and employee tracking for a two-year period. During that time, the center will provide whatever additional support is needed to help trainees succeed — whether related to child care, transportation or other challenges.
While construction workers and Lusk’s team continue to prepare the facility for Saturday’s grand opening, the vast majority of the training classrooms and studios are ready for usage. Among other spaces, there’s a woodworking studio, a room filled with 3D printers, a welding shop and a large flex space designed for events and larger training classes. That space soon will feature a living wall of plants — an extension of the community center’s outdoor garden and a place to educate people about hydroponics. In another section of the facility, where tennis courts from the former Mount Vernon Athletic Club are still in place, students will learn how to fly drones that they’ve built and coded.
Although W.I.S.H. is just now debuting its physical space, the center already has logged some initial successes — community members who underwent off-site training and were already placed in jobs. That’s exactly the outcome Lusk was banking on.
The W.I.S.H. grand opening celebration will take place at the Hybla Valley Community Center, located at 7950 Audubon Avenue, from noon to 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 8. Besides learning about the center’s offerings and opportunities, families can enjoy free food from food trucks, a moon bounce, face painting, a balloon artist and other activities.