CHARLESTON – Since becoming your governor, preparing our state's workforce to meet the long-term needs of business and industry operating in West Virginia has been one of my top priorities.
Today, there are more job training programs in place than ever before, and our state's career and technical education centers and community and technical colleges are stepping up to the task of developing these specialized programs to give West Virginians every opportunity to achieve success here in the Mountain State.
In 2012, we launched a workforce training program called Learn and Earn. This program helps our community and technical college students receive classroom instruction and hands-on experience, while earning a competitive salary, and it gives employers a cost-effective way to recruit and train new employees.
Companies like Gestamp, which manufactures auto parts for some of the world's best known brands, are taking advantage of this training program and it is already seeing a real return-on-investment. Through a partnership with BridgeValley Community and Technical College, students can get hands-on training and earn a one-year certificate, an associate's degree and a journeyman's card.
Since Gestamp first opened in 2013, the South Charleston plant has tripled production and more than doubled its total workforce. Today, Gestamp employs more than 700 West Virginians.
These strong partnerships are critical to helping those investing here train the workforce they need to grow and expand. That's why I'm introducing legislation to expand our state's Learn and Earn program to create new, valuable learning experiences for our future workforce.
Since I announced this proposal during my State of the State address, seven new companies from across the state have expressed interest in offering these opportunities to train and expand their workforce.
Another way we're working together is through the re-establishment of the Workforce Planning Council to better align classroom learning with workplace needs and help us get unemployed West Virginians the training they need to get back in the workforce.
What was once a seven-member council has been transformed and now brings to the table Cabinet secretaries and officials from a variety of state agencies, including the Department of Education and our Community and Technical College System.
For too long, these state agencies worked independently of each other and our state's traditional and non-traditional students were put at a disadvantage. In some cases, students were required to re-take courses to earn credit hours to complete a certificate or a two-year degree program.
With the help of Dr. Kathy D'Antoni, assistant superintendent of career and technical education for the West Virginia Department of Education, and Chancellor Sarah Tucker, chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System, we broke down these bureaucratic silos and created the Career Pathways program to make it easier for students to begin specialized training and education in middle school and high school and easily transition those skills to enter a post-secondary degree program.
Last week, I joined community and technical colleges and career and technical center leadership to stress the importance of this program in West Virginia and encourage its expansion. Moving forward, our community and technical colleges and career technical centers will continue to work together to:
* work with regional employers to identify emerging careers and high-demand skill sets;
engage faculty to refine curriculum and create new programs;
* determine areas for students to acquire an industry-recognized credential and enhance it at the community and technical college level;
* develop a process to validate students' skills obtained during secondary education;
and provide career pathway illustrations that clearly demonstrate the secondary technical coursework and community and technical college requirements for certificates and associate degrees.
Our state's future depends on our ability to provide business and industry with a highly skilled, well-trained workforce that's ready to get to work. Strong partnerships, like those between our career and technical education centers and our community and technical colleges, are invaluable and we're committed to ensuring the next generation of West Virginians is prepared to create an even brighter future for the Mountain State.
Tomblin is governor of West Virginia.