CHARLESTON, W.VA. — West Virginia Women Work has helped women find employment for 15 years, but that is about to end.
With training sites in Morgantown, Charleston and Martinsburg, the nonprofit WVWW has trained and placed hundreds of women in non-traditional, higher-paying jobs across the state since 2000. The nonprofit’s 11-week, free program has a job placement track record of over 80 percent.
Unfortunately, success doesn’t seem to be enough. Without additional funding, WVWW will shutdown at the end of the year.“Our board met in July and concluded that we simply do not have the funds to keep providing this important service after the end of this year,” said Janis Gunel, executive director of West Virginia Women Work.
“We continue to meet with foundations and state and federal officials in the hopes that we can cobble together some kind of miracle,” Gunel said, explaining that there is an effort to keep WVWW in operation.
In its campaign to remain open, WVWW has launched a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/savewvww. The page will be updated with ways the community can get involved with the campaign to save the organization, including making donations and contacting elected officials to garner support for a sustainable funding stream for WVWW.
W.Va. Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-51st, who is one of the members of the board of directors of WVWW, said, “As politicians, we know that the number one thing the public wants is jobs. That’s what we all promise to work on when we campaign. It is terrible to think that we could lose a group with such a great track record for actually putting people into higher-paying jobs.”WVWW’s job training program prepares women to enter positions in carpentry, sheet metal work, ironworking, highway construction, the gas industry and more. Either before or upon graduation from the program, female graduates are accepted into positions that immediately earn over $4 above the minimum wage.Forty percent of WVWW students are single mothers; over 79 percent of WVWW students made less than $10,000 per year before entering the program. In their first year, employed graduates earn on average $24,960 per year.
“It was my ticket out of poverty.” said Heather Dobbins who traveled about an hour and half to her class in Charleston each day. “After my husband was suddenly out of the picture, I became my daughter’s sole supporter. I didn’t really have the skills to make it without public assistance. Now I’m an Apprentice with the Ironworkers and by the time I’m done with my training, I’ll be making over sixty thousand a year with full benefits on top of that. My daughter and I have a future we can look forward to because of West Virginia Women Work.”
WVWW has calculated that there is a large net gain to state and federal coffers because of decreased reliance on assistance and increased revenue from sales and income taxes. “With the number of women who are employed at higher wages as a result of our classes,” said Gunel. “We have estimated that in one year, there would be an additional $234,624 in state and federal income taxes generated and $21,116 more in state sales tax. Further, we have calculated that the state and federal governments would save $437,058 that otherwise would have been paid out in public assistance.”
“As a result of training these women and putting them into higher paying jobs,” Gunel said, adding, “We believe that $692,798 is a fair estimate of the net gain that will be received by the state and federal governments in 2015. If one compounds that annual amount to include the amount generated by past graduates over the last four years, a conservative estimate of the amount that has been returned to the state and federal governments is over $2.5 million dollars. Over the next three years (up to 2018) we project that amount would grow to almost $4. 8 million.”
Losing WVWW will affect the construction industry as well, according to Jeremy Jeffers, Training Director of Apprenticeship Programs for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters in West Virginia. “This program is the only pre-apprenticeship in the state endorsed by the U.S. Department of Labor. When West Virginia Women Work disappears, so does our only proven female recruitment source,” he said.