A pilot program that seeks to prepare local students for the workforce was the focus of the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce's quarterly meeting Wednesday.
Gary Clay, a local business leader who serves as the Workforce and Education Development Committee chairman of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, pointed out that close to 50 percent of West Virginia workers are 50 years old or older .
"So in the next 10 years, half of the workers that are there today are going to retire, so we're looking to fill those jobs," Clay said.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Anna Patrick
Gary Clay and Karen Price of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association speak at Wednesday’s Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Randolph County Community Arts Center.
"Conservative estimates are that (Marcellus Shale drilling is) going to mean tens of thousands of jobs for West Virginia," Clay said. "Good news, but the bad news is, when you set there as a manufacturer outside the state... one of the main things you're going to be looking for is the workforce. Is there a system in place to provide workers to fill factories? Right now, we have to say the answer to that is no."
To repair the situation, "the right education system has to be in place," Clay said, noting that manufacturers need to let schools and guidance counselors know what kind of skills they need in workers, and that jobs are available.
"We need to be involved in working with the educators to get what we need," Clay said.
Dr. Kathy D'Antoni the state director of career technical education, put together a program, called Pathway to Manufacturing, which ran as a pilot program in two counties, Randolph and Kanawha, in the 2011-12 school year.
Clay said officials held a meeting last year to announce the kickoff in Randolph County, and Kanawha County officials, hearing the details, decided to offer the program as well.
"In our plants today, over 90 percent of our jobs are someone who either works directly with a computer, or with a piece of equipment driven by a computer. So it's not a lot of heavy lifting, pushing, pulling," Clay said. "The manufacturing world has changed and folks need a little higher level of skill sets, and we're trying to address this in the program."
He said the program features a "manufacturing capstone" step, in which the students work on a project with a local manufacturer to demonstrate their abilities.
"This is now available to every school in West Virginia," although it is the school's choice in the coming year whether to have the program or not, Clay said.
"We have got a massive task as individuals and manufacturers, changing the thinking about education," Clay said, pointing out that about 36 percent of West Virginia high school students go on to college, and only about 22 percent graduate college.
"The majority of our students are not going to go to college," Clay said. "They are coming out of high school with no skill sets. We want to encourage them to look at other opportunities. 'If college isn't right for you, come out of school with some marketable skills.'"
Karen Price, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, who spoke after Clay's comments, said that Toyota came to her organization to work on recruiting suitable employees.
Price said the result was the "Toyota template," a five-semester program under which students will go to school two days a week, and work at Toyota three days a week, making $17.33 an hour.
"We are encouraging other companies to look at this template," Price said. "We think it's the next step in the next 20 or 30 years in West Virginia."
Price also mentioned Marcellus Shale, saying, "We need a pipeline of good workers for these upcoming jobs."
Clay added that, under the template, companies could also pay for continuing education for their best employees.
"This workforce development is not a one-year thing, this is an ongoing process," Clay said.
Wednesday's meeting was held at the Randolph County Community Arts Center in Elkins.