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Forum focuses on preparing students for W.Va. jobs

By John Raby

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Manufacturers and others responsible for attracting jobs in West Virginia need to get tomorrow's workforce interested in their industries at a young age, a speaker at an economic forum said Wednesday.

With coal industry jobs dwindling and young people leaving the state to find work, members of a panel at the Clay Center in Charleston discussed workforce training and directing students toward getting degrees that fit available jobs.

"The most important thing we have to do is help inspire the next generation and tell our children a new story," said David Satterfield, director of asset development in the West Virginia University Office of Research and Economic Development.

Satterfield said while growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1960s, he thought that manufacturing was a dirty job involving unskilled labor, large buildings and heavy equipment -- and that it wasn't a career choice for him. Today, those jobs in West Virginia involve careers in aerospace, biometrics, advanced engineering, chemicals and polymers, and the automotive sector, among other things.

And students need to know that even an associate's degree can get their foot into the door of those industries, Satterfield said.

"We need each of you as an economic development professional to be an evangelist for manufacturing," he told his audience.

On national manufacturing day Oct. 4, 160 fifth graders in Monongalia County will take a tour of places who offer the jobs in Morgantown.

"We want them to bump into that next inspirational moment, so that they can see, this looks like a neat career," he said. "These kids have these critical moments when they're inspired.

"One of the things we have to do is when you're looking at an associate's degree, what we have to do is show the kids those careers are available in manufacturing. They're available in West Virginia, and they're available right away."

West Virginia community college system Chancellor James Skidmore said two-thirds of the new jobs produced over the next seven years in the state will require postsecondary education. But it doesn't take a degree to get started.

He said companies such as Toyota, NGK Sparkplug and DuPont have apprenticeship arrangements where students can work while earning credit toward degrees. Other programs involving state-matched funding for companies who pay the scholarships of students in technology programs.

This fall the community college system announced the opening of center in Fairmont where prospective employees in the oil and gas industry can get classroom training.

And those students getting prepared for future jobs aren't just teenagers. Skidmore said more than 50 percent of students in the community college system are over age 25.

"When you're talking about what individuals need to do, don't forget about the adults," Skidmore said. "We have a big job to get those low-skill adults into high-skill jobs." West Virginia Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said 96 percent of all companies in the state are considered small businesses because the state's mountainous terrain limits the recruitment of companies desiring large amounts of land. He said another challenge is convincing a company that it will find an educated, drug-free workforce if it locates in West Virginia.


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