West Virginia Executive Summer 2014 - Page 60

Opportunities on Every Level A by-product of today’s technology-driven culture is that students are guided toward secondary and postsecondary education, often toward technology jobs. However, the reality is that the growing job market in manufacturing is increasing, which will allow room for vocational-technical, specialty-program and high school graduates to compete for jobs alongside college graduates. A major appeal of jobs that don’t require college degrees is that young people can enter the job market without the albatross of five- and six-figure student loan debt. Forty million Americans have student loan debt, and 7 million of them are in default, according to U.S. News and World Report. Since the year 2000, total student debt has increased more than 500 percent. While Randolph explains that the WVMA would never suggest that a student not seek higher education, the proof of the opportunities that lie in alternative educational training like vocational-technical and on-the-job is in the numbers: • Approximately 70 percent of U.S. jobs don’t require a fouryear degree, although they do require some form of postsecondary training. • Although engineering posts are considered the hardest jobs to fill, the second is machinists and machine operators, followed by skilled trades and technicians. • Seventy percent of those who finish a two-year technical program or certification graduate with better than a 99 percent job placement rate. • West Virginia Career and Technical Education (WVCTE) centers offer 88 career pathways with 53 specializations and state and national certifications. PROFESSIONAL E XPERIENCE from conception to completion • WV’s largest A/E firm. • ENR Ranking #303. • Zweig White Hot Firm #22. 300 Association Drive Charleston, WV 25311 304-343-7601 60 • Over $90 million in recent educational construction in WV. • Certified Educational Facilities Planner on staff. www.thrashereng.com west virginia executive 600 White Oaks Blvd Bridgeport, WV 26330 304-624-4108 • WVCTE centers have a 98 percent graduation rate and a 96 percent placement rate with 54 percent entering the work force and 42 percent going on to postsecondary education. Thriving and Job-Driving Industries Examples of long-term opportunities run through several influential industries. West Virginia’s hardwood industry, for example, is an international powerhouse. Apart from domestic sales, the Mountain State exported almost $100 million in hardwoods alone in 2013. However, the industry is having trouble keeping a skilled work force in place because there aren’t enough truck drivers and sawmill operators, most of which utilize onthe-job training programs. Many in the Mountain State groused at the number of outof-state license plates from Texas and Oklahoma they saw when the shale gas boom began, but the simple truth is that West Virginia did not have a work force with the required skills for the industry in place when the opportunity arose. Slowly, those out-of-state workers are being replaced with West Virginia residents who have garnered the experience to be rig hands, welders, truck drivers and pipeliners. Global chemical giant Odebrecht is exploring the development of a new petrochemical complex in Wood County, which is considered the most promising of all economic development projects in West Virginia in years. The complex, named Appalachian Shale Cracker Enterprise, or ASCENT, would include an ethane cracker, three polyethylene plants and the associated infrastructure for water treatment and natural product transmission. The facility would be managed by Braskem, and the estimated investment would be $3.8 billion for construction, $150 million for pipeline development and another $40 million for rail, truck and storage facilities. Another area of opportunity lies in the need for further development of West Virginia’s infrastructure. Throughout the country and in West Virginia, highways and bridges are in need of repair or replacement now more than ever. Highway needs create a huge potential demand for infrastructure redevelopment and the jobs that go with it. Further, the completion of necessary highways, including Corridor H and Route 35, will not only create new jobs in construction but also in manufacturing. The result of this infrastructure work will be access to markets through out-of-state and international ports because of these highways. With these opportunities directly in our view, both Demarco and Randolph agree that business and industry leaders, as well as state officials and educators, need to re-focus some of the state’s job messages. While Randolph explains that one of the WVMA’s challenges is to overcome the stigma that working a manufacturing job or a skilled labor job is not a success story, Demarco says society needs to roll back the clock to a time when American workers had a different approach to work and the jobs they pursued. “Now, we’ve got an opportunity to get back to that way of thinking,” says Demarco. “We’ve got jobs, and more jobs are coming. And good jobs often don’t require college degrees. They just need people willing to work hard and have a little smarts and problem-solving skills.” 