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Tomblin leads final meeting of Workforce Planning Council, discusses highlights


The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Outgoing Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin led his final meeting of the Workforce Planning Council Tuesday, highlighting success stories of the last three years.

The council, which meets monthly, is composed of different state education and economic development officials with the goal to better align classroom learning with workforce needs.

In 2013, Tomblin re-established and re-constituted the Workforce Planning Council, saying it had gone stagnant.

The council is charged with coordinating initiatives, leveraging resources and planning the delivery of a comprehensive workforce strategy to ensure strategic approaches for meeting education and training needs for West Virginia’s businesses, according to a handout from the meeting.

“We have taken a holistic approach to ensuring West Virginia’s workforce is prepared and ready to meet the demands of our businesses and industries,” Tomblin said. “By bringing our top state officials across a variety of sectors to the same table every month for the past few years, we have been able to break down barriers and create new opportunities for West Virginians to get the education and training they need to succeed.”

Back in November, West Virginia had a 5.1 percent unemployment rate, according to WorkForce West Virginia data. Tomblin and members of the council discussed several programs from 2013 to present specifically focusing on training and educating workforce.

He said the council has served as a one-stop shop where people from several state agencies can know what the other is doing.

“It’s not the silos that I found when I came in as governor but a group of people who are able to sit down and solve problems and come to agreements to move West Virginia forward,” Tomblin said. “If you want a job in West Virginia, we have a program that will fit your needs as far as getting the training you need.”

Tomblin said he hopes these council meetings along with initiatives will continue under governor-elect Jim Justice.

“Obviously, it would be great if the governor or top official in the office will continue with this council,’ he said. “I think it’s been very beneficial. You hear the success stories from around the table today. These are programs that will hopefully go on for years. It is a lot more efficient than what we’ve had in the past.”

One of the programs discussed Tuesday was the simulated workplace program. In 2014, the council supported expansion of the West Virginia Department of Education Career and Technical Education’s program in which classrooms turn into workplace environment and allow students to earn industry certifications and college credit.

The program was launched with about 6,000 students participating and now is used in every high school CTE program and career technical center with more than 13,000 students participating since 2015.

Rachael Peele, a student at Fayette Institute of Technology, told the council of the benefits she’s seen from her school’s simulated workplace. Peele, who works as an accountant at her simulated workplace, said she has learned much through the program.

“Going through simulated workplace has taught me so much and given me much more insight into a career than a typical classroom setting,” Peele said. “Simulated workplace turns OK students into great students, and great students into leaders.”

Council members also discussed education and training for people qualifying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling said that many people want to work but having education and training is vital for their success.

In this program, West Virginia DHHR and career and technical schools provided recipients with the opportunity to earn a certificate or degree from community colleges. The program originally was piloted at Southern Career and Technical Center in 2015 but last year was expanded to all community college locations. More than 170 people have enrolled in the program since it began.

Brandy Schultz shared her story with council members Tuesday, saying she was able to find a job two weeks after graduation after trying to support her family alone with jobs as a cashier and waitress.

“In 1998, I graduated from high school and ran off to Arizona with a Marine … We got married, had a kid. I didn’t know that 10 years later, I would get a divorce and be on my own with a child with no way to take care of my family,” she said.

Schultz said she tried to make ends meet but couldn’t do it. After learning about the program, she spent the next three years in school, graduating with two associate degrees and one certificate. Two weeks after graduation, she was hired to help with foster children and CPS cases. Now, she’s looking at getting her bachelor’s degree.

“The program they have is absolutely magnificent,” she said. “It really helped me out so much. I could not afford to feed my children and go to college if it were not for this program.”

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