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Gov. Tomblin: State will meet workforce needs

SOUTH CHARLESTON — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has a message for West Virginians: If you’re drug-free and earnestly want a job, the state has an array of programs to get you trained and employed.

Tomblin also has a message for business and industry: Whether you’re expanding in the state or looking to come here, West Virginia is committed to providing the skilled, drug-free, productive workers you need to succeed.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin explains the state’s goals for workforce development during the Governor’s Workforce Summit Tuesday at the Advanced Technology Center at BridgeValley Community and Technical College in South Charleston. West Virginia Press Association Photo
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin explains the state’s goals for workforce development during the Governor’s Workforce Summit Tuesday at the Advanced Technology Center at BridgeValley Community and Technical College in South Charleston. West Virginia Press Association Photo

More than 125 state, education and business leaders gathered at the $15 million, nine-month-old Advanced Technology Center at BridgeValley Community and Technical College Tuesday (May 5) to hear Tomblin and state government and education leaders showcase the state’s workforce efforts during the Governor’s Workforce Summit.

“Over the past two years, the West Virginia Workforce Planning Council has operated behind the scenes, but West Virginia has a great story to tell and it’s time we start telling it,” Tomblin said at the first West Virginia Workforce Summit.

Tomblin created the planning council in 2013 to improve the alignment of classroom learning with workplace needs. He populated the council with top state education and executive branch personnel. All of them either spoke or attended the summit.

The Governor said workforce training can sometimes be found in unexpected places. For example, Kay Goodwin, secretary of the Department of Education and the Arts, oversees the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services. “A substance abuse problem is a disability, so we asked, ‘Could we get federal funds to help clients with substance abuse problems become productive working citizens?’  It turns out we could,” Tomblin said.

On a similar note, state Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Karen Bowling oversees social service programs that aim to help families better themselves, Tomblin said.

West Virginia First Lady Joanne Tomblin, president of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, spoke about the many changes in community and technical colleges since the system was created in 1971.

“The required skills necessary for jobs in West Virginia have evolved from manual labor to advanced technical skills,” she said. “As workforce needs have changed, community and technical colleges have adopted programs to include certificates, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees and beyond.”

She said that nearly 60 percent of the jobs forecast to be created in West Virginia through 2018 will require at least a two-year degree.

Kathy D’Antoni, chief officer of career and technical education in the state Department of Education, said classrooms across the state are being transformed into simulated workplaces to better prepare students for jobs.

James Skidmore, chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College Systems, said the state’s community and technical colleges are offering more technical programs to meet the increasing demand.

“We’ve implemented over 120 programs in the last five years,” he said. “We’ve increased the number of graduates by over 31 percent during the same period.”

Skidmore said the state recently won a $25 million grant from the federal Department of Labor to increase technology programs in energy and manufacturing.

Gov. Tomblin and Skidmore both emphasized that the state is determined to help dislocated coal miners get the training they need to launch new careers.

Steve White, director of the Affiliated Construction Trades Federation, which represents unionized construction workers, said the organization has 29 construction craft apprenticeship facilities in the state.

Apprenticeships are a formalized course of study regulated by the federal government. They are an alternative to a four-year degree. “We work with over 1,000 employers in the state,” White said.

Dr. Stuart and Gov. Tomblin
Dr. Carolyn Stuart, executive director of the state’s Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs, Tuesday told those gathered for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Workforce Summit about receiving benefits in the Aid to Families to Dependent Children program, now known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, when she learned she could get a General Education Development, or GED, certificate. Stuart went on to get her GED and her Ph.D. and now works for the Governor, seated. West Virginia Press Association Photo

James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, said the guard’s Mountaineer Challenge Academy helps at-risk youth turn their lives around. The academy’s 22-week, military style curriculum tries to help 300 high-school dropouts a year earn their high school diploma or get back in school.

Dr. Carolyn Stuart, executive director of the state’s Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs, told how she was receiving benefits in the Aid to Families to Dependent Children program, now known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, when she learned she could get a General Education Development, or GED, certificate. The GED is equal to a high school diploma. “Then I learned I could go to college,” she said, explaining that her GED resulted in her Ph.D.

And now she works in the Governor’s Office.

Stuart’s story received a spontaneous round of applause.

Keith Burdette, secretary of the state Department of Commerce, said he and his staff are salesmen for the state. “Our mission is to tell companies why West Virginia is the right place to grow their businesses,” he said.

“We’ve made fundamental changes over multiple governors and legislatures,” Burdette said. “We have lowered the cost of doing business. West Virginia is now 14 percent below the national average. The cost of living is 14 percent below the national average. The cost of electricity is 22 percent below the national average.

“The end of the story is yet to be written,” he said. “We have one more challenge: Having a competitive, highly skilled, drug-free workforce for those who do business in West Virginia. Workforce issues are No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 in companies’ lists of questions.”

As evidence of the state’s success in meeting the challenge, Burdette pointed to recent new business announcements, including the $30 million Macy’s distribution center built near Martinsburg in 2011 and Procter & Gamble Co.’s February announcement that it will build a $500 million manufacturing plant near Martinsburg.

Tomblin’s Workforce Summit comes as the state grapples with difficult, long-term education and employment issues. Although West Virginia is among the top states in per person spending on education, it ranks among the lowest with college graduates in the workforce. In recent years the state has made numerous efforts to reform its education system.

West Virginia has the nation’s lowest workforce participation rate.  Recent layoffs in the coalfields have resulted in an uptick in the unemployment rate.

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