Despite the current economic conditions, there are high-skill, high-wage jobs available across the nation, including West Virginia. “Middle Skill” jobs are those occupations requiring an educational level less than a four-year degree but more than a high school diploma. These jobs comprise half of the American workforce, and those wanting to pursue one of these occupations will most likely attend a community and technical college. By 2018, two-thirds (63%) of all jobs, and 90% of the higher paying jobs will require postsecondary education; therefore, high school students and adults wanting to move into higher paying jobs need to plan on attending a community college. The student’s future and West Virginia’s economic viability depend on it. West Virginia’s community and technical colleges provide individuals the opportunity to prepare for “middle skill” jobs through the completion of skill sets, certificates and associate degrees. These programs are offered at the lowest tuition rates of all higher education institutions. Pierpont Community and Technical College, one of ten colleges in the system, is the college that provides comprehensive community and technical college education to North Central West Virginia.
The West Virginia Community and Technical College System (WVCTCS) has responded to the demand for “middle skill” jobs by implementing over a hundred new certificate or associate degree programs during the past three years. These programs prepare graduates for high-wage, high-skill jobs in a variety of occupational areas. For example, manufacturers are experiencing difficulty finding individuals with the necessary skills to fill highly technical jobs that require advanced skills. In response to this demand, the WVCTCS is implementing four new Mechatronics programs, one of which is located at Pierpont Community and Technical College. Mechatronics technicians are multi-skilled professionals keeping today’s sophisticated technical manufacturing equipment operating.
These technicians have a combination of knowledge encompassing electrical, mechanical, instrumentation, and automated systems; all necessary skills in today’s high performance manufacturing work environment. To be competitive in the world economy, West Virginia’s manufacturing companies must have skilled people for their jobs.
West Virginia has a long history of being a leading energy producing State, and that trend will continue with the production of coal, natural gas through Marcellus Shale exploration and wind generation. Electrical and other energy distribution are critical to our economy as West Virginia generates and exports energy to the country. To keep our position as a leading producer of energy, we must have a skilled workforce to support these industries. Like other sectors, much of this workforce falls into the “middle skill” category. Electrical Distribution Technology, Power Plant Technology, Wind Energy Technology, and other supporting technologies are programs offered through the WVCTCS that support the energy sector.
The Marcellus Shale natural gas exploration currently taking place in North Central West Virginia is expected to increase the demand for “middle skill” jobs in a number of areas. Individuals need to prepare now to move into these jobs. In addition to the need for mechatronic technicians, these counties are also experiencing growing needs for power plant technicians, information technology workers, and other “middle skill” professionals. The WVCTCS, in collaboration with Pierpont Community and Technical College, is currently investing in new facilities and programs to support these and other growing sectors of the economy in North Central West Virginia.
This past fall, the WVCTCS and Pierpont Community and Technical College, broke ground on the North Central Advanced Technology Center. Located in the I-79 Technology Park in Marion County, the new facility will have more than 55,000 square feet devoted to delivering technical and allied health education and training programs to meet the employment demands of the region.
The Advanced Technology Center curricula will be based on the modularization model with each course being subdivided into areas of specialization. This model provides opportunities to upgrade skills in specific areas while also allowing students to complete a full program by completing all modules. To ensure that Center programs prepare participants with the skills to meet industry needs, programs and training modules will be developed in cooperation with employers.
All industries vital to West Virginia’s economic future will demand a skilled workforce that has the skills to master technology and adapt to change as technology advances. If the State of West Virginia is not successful in providing a pipeline of skilled individuals to fill the “middle skill” jobs desperately needed by employers of our state, we cannot compete in a highly competitive global market, and many of our citizens will not advance into a higher quality of life.
The WVCTCS wants all West Virginians to know a real opportunity exists for a better quality of life, and the American Dream can still become a reality through the attainment of higher levels of education and increased workplace skills offered through our community and technical colleges. Pierpont Community and Technical College and the nine other colleges in the System are poised to provide our citizens an opportunity to be successful in the workforce and give our employers the skilled workforce they need and deserve.