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CTC programs support changing manufacturing sector

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While it may look as though the number of manufacturing jobs is declining, James Skidmore said those statistics don't give the full picture.

Skidmore, chancellor of the Community and Technical College System of West Virginia, said in many cases, manufacturers are seeing the number of employees shift, and jobs that require a higher level of skill are not filled.

"There are specific higher-level skills manufacturers have difficulty filling, things like the industrial maintenance that our mechatronics programs do, machining, they can't find those highly skilled individuals."

So, it's up to the CTC system to recruit and train students to go to work in the manufacturing sector. Skidmore said community and technical colleges across the state offer a variety of programs for students, including co-ops that allow students to attend class and gain on-the-job experience.

"In that program, the students go to school two days a week and work three days a week on a co-op with Toyota," Skidmore said. "This is a program that allows students to go to school and earn money at the same time. Those students throughout their two-year degree program can earn $40,000. The most beneficial part of that program is the students are getting additional training through Toyota and work experience related to their field through Toyota."

West Virginia University-Parkersburg has a similar program with DuPont. Bridgemont Community and Technical College also partners with Toyota, but it is expanding its partnership to include NGK Spark Plug and Kureha. 

Karen Price, president of the West Virginia Manufacturer's Association, said programs such as these are beneficial not only to the student, but also the company. 

"It's just a fabulous way for students to go to school and then come out with a degree and a skill set," she said. 

The Manufacturer's Association and the CTC System are working together to recruit more high school students into two-year degree fields. Skidmore said the two groups are working to educate teachers, counselors and parents about the programs the community and technical colleges have available and high-paying jobs that await students after graduation.

"It's very difficult to get their attention," Skidmore said of high school students. "Most are oriented toward four-year colleges."

Price said that by working with high schools, she hopes to show students what is possible through the community and technical college system.

"Not everyone is going to seek a four-year degree, but there are still good jobs out there," she said. 

Skidmore pointed out most students in community and technical colleges across the state are in the 20-25 age range, not straight out of high school. 

"Young folks have the tendency to not go into these programs," he said. 

Price said she is working on a program that will resemble the Governor's Honors Academy but with a focus on manufacturing. She said she hopes such a program would allow eighth- or ninth-graders to see what is out there in terms of manufacturing jobs.

"You would take eighth- and ninth-grade students, put them on a campus like they do for the Governor's Honors Academy for two weeks and you would do a manufacturing curriculum — see how engines are built, see how you build a bridge," Price said. "I don't know what it would be, but you would start to hopefully pique some interest. The kids would start to know ‘I don't like this' or ‘I would love this and I want to do this next year.'"