The statewide organization that represents West Virginia's manufacturers is making a push to attract more students to careers in manufacturing -- and it's starting young.
Two new initiatives, spearheaded by the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, will try to draw students in as young as the 8th grade, and give them a jump start on a manufacturing career that will help project them through high school and a two-year technical college program.
"Our focus is definitely on high school kids right now because there's a large stigma attached to two-year degrees right now, especially at technical colleges," said Erin Clark, a WVMA spokesperson. "We're trying to get them to understand that these aren't dirty jobs anymore, they're associated with technology and science .<!p>.<!p>. so to remove the stigma we're starting young, and then we can give them a background in this starting early on."
The first of the Kanawha County program, Manupaths, is a two-year program offered to high school students through vocational-technical schools -- right now it's only at Benjamin Franklin Career and Technical Center in Dunbar, but it's open for adoption at schools across the state, and officials are hopeful it will spread.
The program focuses on math, science and technology, and some of the courses students take on the high school level can then be transferred to count for college credit if students are pursuing degrees that will then place them in the manufacturing industry.
From there, students can go on to the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education, a five-semester program in which students spend two days a week in a classroom but three days working for manufacturers -- earning a wage that can help them cover their living and education expenses.
The idea, Clark said, is to entice students to enter the manufacturing industry early, and then to make the path there as painless as possible. That's good for the students, who can leave a two-year degree program and often immediately begin earning around $45,000 -- that's around the same as the average salary for someone with a four-year degree, but these students often have a lot less debt, because their degrees are more affordable.
The jobs they're entering are middle-skill jobs. Employees don't necessarily need a four-year degree, but they do need some specialized education to do them, and they don't include manual labor like many low-skill jobs.
There's a dearth of employees to fill such positions, and that's where the majority of manufacturing jobs are in West Virginia right now. Officials say that's a sign of an opportunity for students about to enter the marketplace.
It's worrisome for employers, who need to fill these middle-skill jobs to run their businesses. Kanawha County is home to more than 115 manufacturers that employ more than 3,200 employees, according to the WVMA. And the natural gas industry is expected to bring more than 10,000 new manufacturing positions to the state as workers mine the Marcellus Shale in the northern part of the state. Many of those positions will be for middle-skill workers.
"The future of these companies is relying on the fact that they're going to have skilled people applying for these jobs," Clark said. "If they don't have anyone to fill these jobs the company could fail."
The WVMA will recruit students for these programs in the coming months across Kanawha County. For more information on these programs or jobs in the manufacturing industry, visit wvma.com.
Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.ma...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.