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Advantage Valley, WV Celebrates the Power of Partnership

Education and industry collaborate to build a highly skilled workforce across Advantage Valley.

By Jessica Walker Boehm on October 13, 2020


A key strength of Advantage Valley is its wealth of higher education assets that form the backbone of its talent development efforts.

High school graduation rates in West Virginia have been on a steady climb and topped 91.4% in the 2018-19 school year, above the U.S. average. Advantage Valley had four schools place on U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 top 10 high schools in West Virginia ranking.

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No. 1 on that list was George Washington High School in Charleston, which ranked in the top 3% of all high schools nationally in academic performance. That achievement is due in large part to high-caliber faculty, such as Karen Donathan, who has taught mathematics, engineering and computer science courses at the school for the past 23 years.

Donathan was a finalist in the 2019 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the highest honors bestowed by the federal government for K-12 science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science teaching.

Free Community College

Standout four-year higher education institutions, such as the University of Charleston, Marshall University and West Virginia State University, along with a bounty of community and technical colleges offering two-year degree programs, ensure employers have access to the skilled workers they need.

To accomplish this, the state has provided opportunity for free education and training in highdemand fields, such as information technology and health care, through programs like the WV Invests Grant. The state-funded grant program pays toward the full cost of basic tuition and mandatory fees for select certificate and associate degree programs at a public two- or four-year institution in West Virginia.

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Priority is given to programs in high-demand fields, such as information technology and health care.

Another example is the Learn & Earn program, a state initiative available through the West Virginia Community and Technical College System (WVCTCS) comprised of nine schools across the state, including Mountwest Community & Technical College, BridgeValley Community & Technical College and Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College.

Participants can earn a minimum of $10 per hour with an employer in their field of study while also completing their required coursework.

Colleges and companies work together in the Learn & Earn program, which is 50-50 wage match between business and industry and the state, says Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker, chancellor of the WVCTCS. The highly successful program is open to students enrolled in credit programs working toward a degree as well as students who simply want job training.

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“For employers, it helps them find new talent who are well-trained and ready to join their operations,†Tucker says.

Core10, a software development company for the financial services industry, has had success with the program since 2017. The company’s Huntington office partners with Mountwest to give IT students the opportunity to get coveted experience in their field.

“I love that Learn & Earn creates a winning outcome for everyone involved,†says Lee Farabaugh, co-founder and president of Core10. “Students win by getting real-world, on-the-job experience while earning an income, and employers win because they are essentially getting to interview future employees for several months and ensure they’re the right fit.”

Toyota Accelerates Training

Another successful arm of the Learn & Earn program is the Advanced Manufacturing Technician Work Sponsorship Degree Program, available at BridgeValley Community & Technical College through a partnership with Toyota West Virginia.

The five-semester program gives students the potential to earn as much as $40,000 over the course of approximately two years. Those selected to participate attend class two days a week at the Advanced Technology Center of South Central West Virginia. Students work three, eight-hour days per week at Toyota’s Buffalo plant.

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Students involved in the Earn & Learn program, such as those completing courses through the Maritime Academy or Allied Health at Mountwest Community & Technical College gain hands-on experience while earning money. Graduates walk away with an associate degree and highly sought-after work experience.

“Companies get to know the students and train them to follow their protocols, so it usually makes sense to hire Learn & Earn graduates,†Tucker says. “But even if not, the on-the-job experience students receive is invaluable and will certainly give them a leg up.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Advantage Valley area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Advantage Valley, WV.

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