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Editorial: Initiative could help focus job skills on fields with better opportunities

Oct. 08, 2012 @ 11:30 PM

A paradox of the nation's current economic condition is that millions of people are unemployed yet many employers are reporting difficulty finding candidates who have the skills to fill available jobs.

That gap is troubling. It suggests that the nation's educational institutions are falling short in providing the skills and knowledge to students that are necessary for them to find a place in the 21st Century workplace. It also could be a sign that educators and employers aren't communicating well enough about the fields that hold the most promise for jobs in the years ahead.

Fortunately, there are efforts under way to address this issue.

One is being undertaken in West Virginia, where representatives from the education field and business and industry are teaming up to develop courses aimed at preparing students for careers in advanced energy, power and engineered systems. The Mountain State was among 12 states chosen by the Southern Regional Education Board to participate in forming the "Preparation for Tomorrow" curriculum for career technical centers.

The program requires each of the states to develop four standards-based career technical courses in high-demand, -skilled and -wage career areas attuned to that state's economic needs and opportunities. The states will then share the specifics of the courses with each other.

West Virginia picked the energy and power curriculum for secondary schools to prepare high school students for potential careers, with the courses being made available at career technical centers statewide. Choosing an energy industry focus makes sense for West Virginia, considering the growing natural gas opportunities in the state was well as its long history in coal production.

One of the program's advantages is that it brings together educational and industry officials to develop what should be curricula focused on the energy industry's needs. American Electric Power engineers and representatives of the oil and gas industry are involved, as well as faculty from Marshall University, West Virginia University Institute of Technology, West Virginia University at Parkersburg and Kanawha Valley Community and Technical College.

Another is that West Virginia will be in a position to implement courses developed in other states if the subject matter helps fill workforce demands without having to create the courses here.

West Virginia already has made strides in better equipping itself to offer educational and training opportunities in more popular career fields by separating its community and technical colleges from their parent universities. Among the reasons was to strengthen the colleges' ability to help with workforce development. In addition, just last week the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing, which has several facilities in the state including in Huntington, highlighted the training it offers in skills associated with manufacturing. RCBI also collaborates with Mountwest Community and Technical College to offer machinists training for MCTC students.

The so-called skills gap between job-seekers and available positions won't be eliminated overnight, but it's heartening to see that various stakeholders are finding the means to attack it.

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