ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — More than 1.1 million people in the Commonwealth have filed for unemployment benefits since March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, a new program is not only helping Virginians get back into the workforce, but it may be on the way to southwest Virginia.

It is called VA Ready, which is currently established in northern Virginia. The qualifications for this program are simple:

  • Your job was disrupted by COVID-19 (i.e. laid off, furloughed, moved to full-time).
  • You are a Virginia resident.

VA Ready is geared to help those either unemployed or underemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It allows people to enroll in a six to 12-week course to learn a new skill and potentially embark on a new career.

The concentrations include manufacturing, technology and healthcare.

Co-founder and chairman Glenn Youngkin says VA Ready gets people back on their feet and helps companies that are struggling to find qualified employees.

“This really does enable the Virginia workforce to be more resilient,” Youngkin said. “So, when we do have our next economic downturn, which we’re going to have at some point in the future, these folks are actually going to be more protected, more resilient in sectors that can continue to grow.”

The courses cost $2,500. Each person is responsible to pay one-third of the cost out of their own pockets, but the balance is covered through Virginia’s FastForward funding and other grants.

However, whomever completes the course, they will receive a $1,000 scholarship.

There are 30 credentialed courses through the Virginia Community College system.

Youngkin says there are currently 450 scholars in VA Ready — which launched in June — and 26 of them have already landed new jobs, mostly in marine repair. He says the goal is to enroll 15,000 Virginians moving forward.

Grayson Hopkins is working toward earning two certifications in computer networking and cybersecurity.

Grayson Hopkins from Edinburg is one of the 450 scholars taking advantage of the program. He is learning two new skills and on pace to acquire two new certifications for a new career.

Hopkins says after working in law enforcement for 17 years, he worked as an IT specialist for six months before getting laid off near Christmas in 2019.

He could not land a full-time job because of the COVID-19 pandemic and was forced to file for unemployment.

However, Hopkins is currently enrolled in a six-week course through VA Ready and earning certifications in computer networking and cybersecurity. He says the extensive job training is available to anyone else experiencing the same thing he has endured.

Hopkins is hopeful to land a full-time job in a new career.

“It’s going to be like getting that first job ever,” he said. “Whatever the next one is going to be. It may not be the dream job but it will be the dream environment. It’s going to be life-changing.”

According to Hopkins, all of his classes have been virtual because of the pandemic, but he has less than three weeks remaining in his course before he has to pass the final test.

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