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Biz-ed collaboration is essential

KINGWOOD — Collaboration between business and education is critical to training Preston County residents for the jobs that are there now and in the future, according to a new report.

Career Readiness West Virginia is working with the Preston County Chamber of Commerce and Preston County Schools on finding what employers need in workers  and how to meet that need.

Preston School Superintendent Steve Wotring said the report is timely.

“I think what it means for us now is we begin to look at our programs, especially our career technical ed programs, and see how we’re aligning to the job market that exists for our kids,” Wotring said. 

Census and Federal Reserve Economic Data cited by the report says 86.4% of Prestonians 25 and older have at least a high school education, and 15.4% in that age range have at least a bachelor’s degree.

But training doesn’t haven’t to be a college degree to equal a good job. 

“More so than who can get jobs, it impacts what kind of jobs they can get,” Frank Vitale said. “Roughly seven out of 10 West Virginians have less than a two-year degree … so it’s really not that far from the average, when you look at especially how rural Preston County is.”

Vitale is president and CEO of Forge Business Solutions, which developed and manages Career Readiness.

It’s important that CTE (career and technical education)  schools and two-year colleges work to provide a path to  technology certification so that those technology jobs can be attracted to the region, he said.

“We have technology coding jobs that pay $60,000 a year available in the state of West Virginia, but we can’t fill them because we don’t have a knowledge based workforce,” Vitale said. 

“The perception, based on the survey results, is that working in technology requires advanced degrees, when really there are a lot of jobs available and could be made available that do not require a college degree at all.” 

A lot of the required certification could be provided by local school boards and through adult education programs, he said.

The group identified seven ways for industry and educators to collaborate on  workforce development: Internships, a speakers series, job shadowing, job fairs, integrated pathways, career exploration, including employers and occupational specialists as speakers for teachers’ and administrators’ professional  development, and workplace tours.

COVID-19 will impact how some of that will be done, Wotring said, but there are ways. For example, the state has banned field trips in the upcoming school year, but a virtual tour is possible, he said. 

Wotring said the report opens the door for  schools to start conversations with employers about programs. 

Career Readiness West Virginia recommends that counties collaborate on programs. An example would be working with Harrison County’s aerospace  center to develop a program.

“This whole model is not perfect … but it’s about bringing people together. And bringing private industry, the public sector, the military and higher education as well together to meet the communities, the students,” Vitale said.

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