Shashank Priya, the Robert E. Hord Jr. Professor of Mechanical Engineering, is no stranger to problem solving.

Priya hosted a world energy harvesting conference in 2012 and started a global Energy and Materials Initiative in 2016. His lab has created piezoelectric materials, flexible solar panels, and waste heat energy harvesters.

Now he’s building a team to create a national training center that could help connect unemployed U.S. military veterans with careers in promising fields.

At a workshop on Sept. 15 at the Virginia Tech Research Center – Arlington, academics, governmental agencies, and industry will come together to discuss ideas for the center, which would offer veterans certification programs and real-world skills tailored to the needs of civilian companies.

 “Veterans have gone through a lot of training and have used equipment and technology under real pressure,” said Priya, who is also the associate director for research and scholarship at the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. “But when they’re entering the civilian workforce, there can be a gap between their skills and the most attractive jobs. We can provide that additional layer of training and help get these jobs filled with veterans. That’s my main concern, bridging that gap between available positions and vets looking for jobs.”

Priya envisions a national training center based at Virginia Tech, where government, academic, and industry stakeholders will work together to develop focused educational programs for a carefully chosen set of high-demand fields.

“From initial conversations with industry, manufacturing centers, and some potential university partners, we’re looking at six areas where we can provide professional certification,” Priya explained. These six areas — cybersecurity, data analytics, unmanned aerial systems, renewable energy, smart manufacturing, and the sustainable materials and recycling industry — would form the core of the program.

“Many veterans would come to the program with a high-school diploma, some with an associate’s degree, and some with a four-year degree,” Priya said. “We plan to have two different tracks for certification — a one-semester track and a two-semester track. Each would provide a refresher on the math and other relevant subjects, but about 70 percent of the training would be hands-on.”

The hands-on training, provided in part by the companies involved with the center, would be a crucial part of ensuring the students would learn skills that would match the job expectations after certification.

Priya is also reaching out to other universities and agencies. “Our goal is to make Virginia Tech the Veterans Training Center, with satellites at universities across the country,” he said.

At the September workshop, Priya said he expects the university members to be the listening audience, as industry and government advise the organizing team what qualifications they need across what career fields. After that, the work begins to bring on corporate partners, develop the curriculum for the certification programs, and recruit trainees.

“Looking forward, a successful center will provide government or industry jobs for everyone who comes through the certification program,” Priya said. “That would be our victory, that we are able to transition people into the civilian marketplace and connect them with real, available jobs.”

Other members of the Virginia Tech community involved in the initiative include Jon Greene, the associate director for strategic development at ICTAS; Vinod Lohani, a professor of engineering education and director of education and global initiatives at ICTAS; Eric Paterson, the Rolls-Royce Commonwealth Professor of Marine Propulsion and head of the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering; Charles Clancy, director of the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology; Christine Callsen, the Hume Center’s director of outreach and education; Tim Howland, the associate director of corporate and foundation relations for Advancement; and Jim Dubinsky, the chair of the Virginia Tech Veterans Caucus.

More information and a registration link are available at the workshop website.

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