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Students in Advantage Valley, WV, Have a Competitive Edge

Advantage Valley schools and businesses work together to fuel a growing workforce. 

By Teree Caruthers on October 31, 2022

TMMWV team members assemble 4-cylinder engines at the Toyota Motors plant in the Advantage Valley region of West Virginia.
Toyota Motors

A defining aspect of the Advantage Valley region’s competitive edge is the ability to keep a steady pipeline of skilled talent flowing to growing industries.

Powerful partnerships between the region’s school systems and businesses ensure students are prepared to join the workforce and have successful careers.

Students take an IT course at Mountwest CTC, which is located in the Advantage Valley region of West Virginia.
Chris Gosses Photography / Mountwest CTC

Revving Up the Workforce

For example, Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia Inc. works with the Putnam County, Cabell County and Kanawha County school systems to give students real-world experiences that introduce them to local, in-demand careers.

“A fundamental tenet of our mission at Toyota West Virginia and across the company is respect for people. Investing in education and career skills development is a real, tangible way to support that philosophy,” says George Gannon, corporate communications analyst for Toyota Motor North America. 

“Creating opportunities for a diverse and robust team is key in today’s market,” he says. “That’s why we partner with local educators and workforce organizations to identify needs and create programming to bring career awareness and readiness to the forefront of our communities.”

The company’s outreach includes sponsoring the West Virginia Teacher of the Year selection, STEM-related events, robotics competitions and financial support for initiatives across the educational spectrum.

Toyota also partners with groups such as the Education Alliance to develop programs, such as the 4T Academy, which combines hands-on learning and cutting-edge curriculum aimed at helping students learn about manufacturing as a potential career path. The academy offers rising juniors and seniors the opportunity to receive two years of on-the-job experience at the West Virginia plant.

Elizabeth Gates, right, reacts to picking up a Skittle while learning to use chopsticks with Charlotte Craig during a summer Japanese Immersion Camp at Altizer Elementary School in Huntington. Huntington is part of the Advantage Valley region of West Virginia.
Nathan Lambrecht

Real-World Lessons

“Classroom instruction is complemented by supervised work on our shop floor where our students will help build engines and transmissions. In class, they will learn about the concepts behind these components, so they will be able to see how academic study translates to the manufacturing process,” Gannon says.

He says that students also learn teamwork, gain leadership skills, and experience firsthand how Toyota West Virginia is leading the way in Toyota’s electrified future.

“These kids are tomorrow’s innovators, and we hope to show them they can have success living and working in the Mountain State,” Gannon says.

The 4T Academy is just one way the company is engaged and invested in local education. Along with Nippon Tungsten, a producer of rotary die-cutting systems, Toyota sponsors a weeklong Japanese immersion camp for students as young as elementary school in Cabell and Putnam counties. The camp encourages students to see the world from a different perspective through song, dance, games and art.

In Putnam County, the Japanese immersion camp is part of Putnam County Schools’ Elementary Summer SOLE (Student Opportunities for Learning and Engagement) program, which offers free weeklong sessions for grades K-5 in art, robotics, reading, Spanish immersion and foundational skills.

Children learn Japanese writing during a summer Japanese Immersion Camp at Altizer Elementary School in Huntington. Huntington is part of the Advantage Valley region of West Virginia.
Nathan Lambrecht

Ready for Work

The Cabell County Career and Technical Center offers a CTE Summer Camp for fifth and eighth graders to help introduce them to career pathways before they enter middle and high school, respectively.

Then beginning in middle school, students are enrolled in a career literacy program that “not only reinforces the importance and the skill-building of reading and writing but also does so through the lens of becoming more aware of what career options exist out there” says Ryan Saxe, superintendent of Cabell County Schools.

Saxe says high school students can enroll in courses aligned with their career objectives at the district’s career and technical center while taking traditional, required courses at their home high school.

A dual enrollment program through Mountwest Community & Technical College allows high school students and adult learners to earn industry certification while also earning college credit.

“Everything we do from the boardroom to the classroom is focused on workforce development and making sure that our students have the skills necessary to be successful in work and in life,” Saxe says.

If you’d like to learn more about the Advantage Valley region, check out the latest edition of Livability: Advantage Valley, West Virginia

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