Senator Joe Manchin: Instilling Work Ethic in the Labor Force of Tomorrow Must Start Early

CHARLESTON — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin has some advice for construction companies and design firms: Start them young.

Manchin, D-W.Va., was among the opening speakers Wednesday at the 40th annual West Virginia Construction and Design Expo at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center. The event is billed as the largest trade show for the construction and design industries in the state.

With so many construction contractors, architects, engineers and other trades represented at the expo, Manchin used his time to promote his Job and Resource Fairs. The first is 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Bluefield State College. The second is 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.

Aside from having multiple employers represented at the job fairs, there also will be resource areas to help applicants build better resumes and interview skills, get professional photos taken and build an online presence. Representatives of four-year colleges and universities, two-year community and technical colleges and military recruiters will be on hand as well.

“It will be the largest job fair ever held in the state of West Virginia,” Manchin said. “We have over 270 vendors, and they’ll be hiring 1,500 people if they can find any on Friday. We’re inviting schools to come here and see what the opportunities are.”

But while his job fair focuses on high school graduates and working adults, Manchin said not enough is being done to instill a strong work ethic in the labor force of tomorrow.

“I was raised in a family where basically you had to start working when you were old enough,” Manchin said. “I was 9 years old working in my grandfather’s grocery store then the furniture store with my dad.”

“The bottom line is we all had that opportunity to work,” Manchin said. “Why? You had to. You were expected to produce a little bit of something to help the family out. Today, that’s not the case.”

Manchin encouraged the audience members to start hiring high school students and teaching them a trade. In West Virginia, teenagers can start working with a permit at age 14. State code limits those teenagers to no more than 18 hours of work per week between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. or three hours per day during the school year.

“What I want to do is create a challenge,” Manchin said. “All of us should reach out. Find a 14-year-old … and show them the work ethic. Start them young enough. We’re trying to get them into the workforce after they’ve gone through school, maybe have a little bit of college, and they’ve never had a job. It’s something we have to intervene and do.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, West Virginia continues to have the lowest workforce participation rate in the nation, coming in at 54.1 percent as of January. Manchin said he’s tired of the state being ranked 50th.

“Think about this, we have more kids in single homes, more kids in broken homes,” Manchin said. “If we don’t intervene, God help us all.

“We still have a reputation of if you find a West Virginia worker, you’ll find the best worker you’ve ever had,” Manchin said. “We just don’t have enough of us. There’s not enough people out there. We have thousands of jobs we can’t fulfill in West Virginia right now.”

During the 60-day legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1 creating the Advanced Career Education program and the West Virginia Invests Grant Program, both aimed at getting high school students certificates or two-year degrees in high-demand jobs in the state. The Advanced Career Education program partners high schools with community and technical colleges for workforce training programs.

“We have to make sure we have young people understanding the value of work, the dignity of work, and how it can change your life and make a life for you,” Manchin said. “We need to start reaching out … get them started learning the dignity and value of work, learning a trade, having a mentor that they can see works hard and is successful.”

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