On a recent visit to the Eastern Panhandle, West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee remarked on the jobs situation in the state.
“There’s over 20,000 jobs in this state that we do not have skilled workers for. We don’t have a jobs problem, we have a skills problem,” Gee said. “Opioid addiction is a matter of hopelessness and despair because jobs are not available to them. So we need to connect those jobs and make sure it’s available.”
Gee, of course, is right. Thankfully, the state Legislature is taking steps to help increase the number of skilled workers in West Virginia.
West Virginia Invests, which was approved by lawmakers during the 2019 session, provides a pathway for students to attend the state’s community colleges where they’ll receive training for careers with noted worker shortages. These students will need to meet certain criteria to qualify, but will receive tuition assistance.
Officials at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College this week expressed enthusiasm for the program and its positive influence on the state and the region.
“It’s an enrollment manager’s dream to have such a program to offer to students,” said Leslie See, vice president of enrollment at BRCTC, in a Journal story published earlier this week.
The program is described on its website as a “state-funded grant program that covers the full cost of basic tuition and fees for select certificate and associate degree programs at a West Virginia public two- and four-year institution.”
For many years, much focus has been on students obtaining four-year degrees in order to be successful. While this is perhaps true of many fields, there are other very lucrative fields requiring only a two-year degree. Forcing every student down one path is not only illogical, but has also created a gap between the number of jobs and skilled workers needed to fill them.
Programs such as West Virginia Invests will help close this gap, and because of a requirement that students in the program must live in the state for a number of years post graduation, it will also help keep talented young adults in the state.
During Gee’s visit, much talk also focused on battling the opioid epidemic. Joblessness – and therefore hopelessness – has been identified as one root cause of the disease of addiction.
West Virginia Invests provides opportunities for individuals – an alternative to hopelessness.
Another statewide initiative – the COAT program, or Comprehensive Opioid Addiction Treatment program – offers another pathway.
According to Dr. Clay B. Marsh, vice president and executive dean of WVU Health Sciences, the program is based on medication-assisted therapy with counseling and case management. It’s also now looking at ways to get those in recovery back into the workforce or into an educational pathway.
Though in its early stages, the program is promising. The part of the program focused on matching potential workers with company owners and CEOs looking for workers is underway in four counties – Wayne, McDowell, Monongalia and Braxton.
Such programs are visionary and they provide a piece of the puzzle often missing in the battle against the opioid epidemic – hope.