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Summit focuses on workforce training

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Summit focuses on workforce training
By Caitlin Cook, The Charleston Gazette

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and other leaders spoke about the importance of workforce training and retraining programs and partnerships between education and industry at the governor’s first Workforce Summit Tuesday afternoon at BridgeValley Community and Technical College in South Charleston.

Moving forward, the state will continue to develop collaborative efforts between business and industry and education and training organizations to meet the changing workforce needs in the state, officials said.

State Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said the state’s workforce is always a top concern for companies looking to move to the state or expand existing operations.

“They don’t want to talk about taxes, they don’t want to talk about workers’ compensation and all that stuff,” Burdette said. “That’s kind of old news -- we’ve already fixed that stuff and it’s not on their list anymore.”

What is concerning to companies are statistics such as the state’s workforce participation rate and the number of college graduates in the workforce, Burdette said.

“We can deal with that problem now and we’re trying to do something to deal with it long term,” Burdette said.

Many companies are satisfied with the state’s current workforce but wonder what the future workforce will look like, Burdette said.

These workforce training and retraining programs can help businesses and communities, Burdette said.

The programs have led to 11,000 new jobs in the last four years, Burdette said.

The state Workforce Planning Council, which was re-established by an executive order in 2013, has helped connect people and resources, Burdette said.

Programs such as the Governor’s Guaranteed Workforce Program provides training and technical assistance for a company’s specific needs. The state’s Learn and Earn program allows workers to rotate training in a classroom setting and on-the-job.

Todd Fox with DuPont said the program has been very successful for the company. As DuPont spins off its performance chemical unit, the new company also plans to use the Learn and Earn program.

Tomblin said the council has allowed the state to use its resources better and inform people of all the programs available. Other programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families can connect parents with educational training, health, and other resources available for everyday life.

“I’ve got my team all singing off the same sheet understanding the importance of a good, well-trained workforce in West Virginia if we are going to be successful,” Tomblin said.

As West Virginia’s economy has changed, the state’s community and technical colleges have adapted, West Virginia First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin said.

She served as president of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College.

Community and technical colleges are more important than ever in meeting the state’s workforce needs, the First Lady said. “West Virginia’s new economy is driving the need for a workforce that’s highly skilled,” she said.

Nearly 60 percent of jobs created in West Virginia through 2018 will require at least a two-year degree, the First Lady said.

The life blood of West Virginia’s workforce is not just the 22-year old graduate with a four-year degree, but adults going back for retraining after losing their job or people going back for more education after their company downsized, she said.

The First Lady said the state’s community and technical colleges can be market responsive and leverage partnerships while creating programs and curriculum that meets employer’s needs.

Kathy D’Antoni, chief officer of career and technical education at the West Virginia Department of Education, echoed the importance of those partnerships for students.

“One of West Virginia’s greatest resources that must be carefully cultivated is West Virginia’s emerging workforce,” D’Antoni said.

D’Antoni talked about the benefits of those partnerships through simulated workplaces at schools throughout the state.

Those simulated workplace environments not only provide students with high-level technical skills but allow students to understand the business processes -- that everything they do inside a company impacts the bottom line, D’Antoni said.

Students clock-in, take mandatory random drug test and learn communication and leadership skills, she said.

Leaders from eight states and Australia have made a trip to West Virginia to visit the simulated workspaces.

“It’s not a curriculum, it’s an environment,” D’Antoni said.

West Virginia Community and Technical College System Chancellor Jim Skidmore said the state’s community colleges are offering more and more technical programs.

More than 120 programs have been implemented in the last five years.

Skidmore is currently working with oil and gas industry officials to develop programs that will meet that industry’s employment needs.

Companies like Toyota have stepped forward to provide internships for students, jobs for graduates, adjunct faculty, donated equipment and money, Skidmore said.

“We’ve been fortunate to develop strong employer partnerships,” Skidmore said.

Accelerated programs in the energy and manufacturing industries are being developed to help retrain displaced coal miners, Skidmore said.

Steve White with Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation urged to the state to look at ways to implement apprenticeship programs beyond the construction industry.

Apprenticeships are a proven method regulated by the federal government, White said.

“West Virginians have an opportunity to succeed,” Gov. Tomblin said.

Tomblin said the state is doing everything it can to help any West Virginian who asks for help with retraining or education.

“We’re really trying to get people off of public assistance,” Tomblin said. “Jobs are out there -- let them know we’ll provide the training if they want to better themselves in West Virginia.”

Tomblin said not everyone is going to earn a four-year degree but there are good paying jobs in the state.

“It’s up to each individual to decide where you want to go and then go after with all you got,” Tomblin said.