Editorial: New center should help state build up skills of workforce
West Virginia has taken a much-needed step forward with the completion of a new facility that beefs up its ability to provide workforce training.
The step was highlighted when officials gathered Tuesday to dedicate the Advanced Technology Center located in the West Virginia Regional Technology Park in South Charleston.
The idea behind the new center, which cost $15 million to build and equip and has 55,000 square feet of space, is to serve as a flexible training site for various educational and workforce training programs. Input from local manufacturers was used by the state Community and Technical College System to design the facility, the first of two like it planned in the Mountain State. The other, in Fairmont, is under construction.
Providing the facilities and programs to boost the skills of the state's workforce is an essential undertaking for West Virginia, which suffers from a skill gap in a significant portion of its labor force. For example, low participation in post-secondary educational programs and poor graduation rates mean a direct economic impact when it comes to filling jobs and attracting business. A 2013 study by Georgetown University speculated that by 2020, 51 percent of jobs in the state will require at least an associate degree. Right now, West Virginia is not on course to provide the workforce to sustain its economy and to meet that workforce demand in the future, officials say.
The Advanced Technology Center can help change that picture, by keeping its equipment and programs up to date and by partnering with businesses. Both goals are evident from the start.
"We constructed the building so that as workforce demands change, as technology changes, then the facility is flexible enough to adapt to those changes," said James Skidmore, chancellor of the Community and Technical College System. "Because if you don't do that, you get left behind and you're not giving the educational training that employers need."
An example of the importance of business collaboration also was demonstrated when Toyota Motor Manufacturing of West Virginia committed $1 million over five years to help pay for training programs at the new center. The company also agreed to make $200,000 worth of donations in the form of used equipment. Toyota and BridgeValley Community and Technical College, which will run the day-to-day operations of the new center, already are collaborating on a two-year Advanced Manufacturing Technician degree program. People with that kind of education are in demand by Toyota as well as other manufacturers, a Toyota official said.
Not only will the center provide a place for advancing workers' skills, it can also be a powerful tool for pitching to businesses considering locating in the state. Customized training programs designed to meet prospective employers' needs are also possible with the center.
The upshot is that the Advanced Technology Center can play a significant part in moving the state's economy forward.
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