West Virginia Executive Spring 2017 - Page 23

[ community ] Bridging West Virginia’s Employment Gap HEATHER FOSTER DANA MYSLINSKY BRYANT At a time when transitioning to West Virginia’s new economy and retaining young talent are of critical concern to decision makers and businesses alike, connecting private sector employ- ers with West Virginia’s national service alumni, such as Ameri- Corps volunteers, is a viable opportunity that could be a game changer for the Mountain State. According to a recent report from the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research, West Virginia faces an uphill battle in keeping people in the state. Projections indicate the state may lose 20,000 people by the year 2030. Many of those leaving are educated young adults. By 2030, nearly one in four West Virginians will be at or near retirement age. However, ac- cording to the same report, there is still time to improve popula- tion migration patterns in West Virginia’s favor, and both public and business policies can make a positive impact. “We’re an impact generation, drawn to social enterprise and a triple bottom line, eager to solve complex problems with new technology, ideas and creativity,” says Natalie Roper, executive director of Generation West Virginia, a statewide organization dedicated to attracting, retaining and advancing young talent in the state. “West Virginia has some complex problems that could benefit from the entrepreneurial minds of this generation, but many leave the state due to a perception that West Virginia is not open to change, innovation, new ideas or solutions.” The problem is two-fold: businesses need a highly skilled work force to operate, and West Virginia either needs an influx of young professionals or a way to retain its graduates. An ideal solution would involve both a pipeline of qualified candidates and com- munities that draw young people here to live, work and serve. An Available Talent Pool Believe it or not, a pool of highly skilled, exceptionally quali- fied candidates does exist and is already available and present in West Virginia. As of October 2016, AmeriCorps had more than 1 million alumni nationally. Approximately 1,000 serve in West Virginia each year, creating a group of leaders primed for employment opportunities. AmeriCorps members engage in community service through approved short-term and yearlong national service positions. Upon successful completion of their service, they earn a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award from ExEdge the National Service Trust, which they can use Volunteers to pay for higher education expenses or apply to donated 39.3 million hours qualified student loans. In West Virginia, AmeriCorps members provide of service to West Virginia direct and indirect services to hundreds of non- in 2015. profits, schools and public service agencies. Each member supports an important community-based Source: www.volunteer initiative and must successfully complete all the wv.org terms of their contract. Programs focus on K-12 mentoring, literacy, health and community and economic de- velopment initiatives. One program recruits military veterans who provide housing and employment services to their peers as they transition back to civilian life or into sustainable housing. Mikel Herrington, acting chief of staff for the Corpora- tion for National and Community Service, says AmeriCorps members possess the skills and characteristics that make them ideal to address some of West Virginia’s most pressing issues. “Their selflessness and willingness to answer any challenge inspires those they work alongside, as well as the communi- ties they serve. These motivated, outcome-oriented and inno- vative young leaders are tremendous assets for all who call the Mountain State home.” EXECUTIVE EXCLUSIVE More than 1,000 AmeriCorps volunteers serve West Virginia every year. To learn more about West Virginia’s AmeriCorps volunteers, check out Service Spotlight, a series of volunteer spotlights at www.wvexecutive.com/ category/executive-exclusives. WWW.WVEXECUTIVE.COM S P R I N G 2 017 21