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Advantage Valley Students: Focused on the Future

Career-readiness programs keep the pipeline of talent flowing to meet the demand for highly skilled jobs in this West Virginia region.

By Teree Caruthers on November 19, 2021

Cabell County Schools in West Virginia
Cabell County Schools

A highly skilled workforce is the linchpin of the Advantage Valley region’s economic growth and success, thanks in large part to career and technical education (CTE) programs within the public school systems.

The region’s standout public schools — five of which are among the top 10 high schools on U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 Best High Schools in West Virginia list — help prepare students for careers in local in-demand fields.

“With the recent emphasis on developing sustainable supply chains, the need for skilled, reliable workers is even greater. Increasing participation in CTE programs will significantly help
to shrink the employment gap.”

Monica Cross | Explore the New Manufacturing

Programs offering career and technical education in West Virginia give students an opportunity to develop marketable skills needed in today’s workforce.

“Students get to experience and can earn specialty certifications that will quickly help them secure a financially rewarding career, especially in the manufacturing industry,” says Monica Cross, program director of Explore the New Manufacturing, a program of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association Educational Fund Inc., which introduces middle and high school students to careers within West Virginia’s manufacturing industry.

Cabell County Schools in West Virginia
Cabell County Schools

Learning to Succeed in Cabell County

In Cabell County, the Career Technology Center introduces high school students to 13 different career pathways, from aerospace to welding. The center operates a simulated workplace; students are required to submit a resume and participate in an interview process to enroll in the program. Students are assigned traditional workplace roles, such as foreman, project manager, quality control manager or safety manager. They even punch a time clock for class each day.

Frank Barnett, principal of the Cabell County Career Technology Center, says the center works with local businesses to ensure students are learning the necessary skills to succeed in the workplace.

“We have advisory councils, both at the high school level and the post-secondary level, that work with our local businesses and our instructors to determine what the skills needs are and how we can best meet those needs within the structure of the curriculum and the trades programs,” Barnett says. “We work with businesses to make sure the equipment our students are learning on are up to industry standards, and our business partners provide internships and other on-the-job training opportunities for our students.”

Simulated Workplaces in Putnam County

The Putnam Career and Technical Center, operated by Putnam County Schools, also offers students a simulated workplace. In addition to technical skills, students gain much-needed soft skills through their coursework at the center.

“Part of the simulated workplace is teaching those soft skills, like communication,” says CD Caldwell, principal and director of the Putnam Career and Technical Center. “For example, students lead the safety meetings every day. They take on leadership roles and help prepare the rest of the class for the project that day. The students assign duties and are in charge of supplies. Students communicate the needs of the shop. At the end of the day, the instructors should be able to just sit back and supervise the students as they take on those leadership responsibilities.”

Need Help with Tuition?

If you’re a high school student thinking about going into a career in health care, information technology or other specific fields, then your entire tuition could be paid as part of the West Virginia Invests Grant. The initiative pays toward the full cost of basic tuition and fees for select certificate and associate degree programs at 10 public institutions with 27 campuses across the state.

Get a Head Start with Dual Enrollment

While the center prepares students for immediate job placement, Caldwell says about half his graduates go on to pursue higher education. For those students interested in pursuing a college degree, dual enrollment programs allow students to simultaneously earn college and high school credit.

The region’s school districts partner with a number of colleges and universities, including Marshall University, Mountwest Community and Technical College, and West Virginia State University, to offer dual enrollment courses. In addition, West Virginia’s Earn a Degree-Graduate Early (EDGE) program enables students to convert CTE courses to college credits at community and technical colleges.

“A lot of our students may get an internship and work on it and then go on to college, get a degree and then come back to work for that company full time. The thing that’s important, though, is that we are educating a great group of young adults and supplying a steady stream of skilled workers to these businesses,” Caldwell says.

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