Gas industry announcement highlights need for technical training for West Virginians

The recent announcement of a Chinese industrial company investing in West Virginia reemphasizes the need for quality technical education.

Officials recently announced a plan by Shenhua Group Corp. to invest $83.7 billion to develop the state’s natural gas resources over the next 20 years. The majority of the investment will be in the Ohio River basin area, including Wood County.

Wood County Schools has requested state School Building Authority funds to renovate and expand the Wood County Technical Center which shares a campus with Parkersburg South High School. The renovations would allow the center to upgrade workplace technology, serve more students, and bring under one roof several of its programs which are currently housed at other facilities.

Pier Bocchini, director of career and technical education (CTE) for Wood County Schools, said incoming industry affects not only the job needs of that industry, but also downstream businesses and services.

“quotations”>”It creates a ripple of services that are needed,” she said. “You have trucks on the road, which means you need automotive repair. Restaurants and hotels do more business, so you need management and accounting. Therapeutic services and different healthcare professions become more important because you have more people. A lot of large industry employs their own emergency response teams.

“Any major industry coming in can have a big impact on everything.”

The technical center programs use a simulated workplace model, meaning students handle tasks as though working for a business. The students use time sheets to learn how different jobs track work, and all students must complete safety training and undergo periodic drug testing.

“That is what we hear the most from businesses: They need a skilled, drug-free workforce,” Bocchini said. “We’re not only teaching the students a trade, we’re teaching them how to work, how to operate in a workplace.”

Bocchini said more women are getting into traditionally male-dominated technical fields. That not only creates new opportunities for students, but also requires programs to adapt their facilities, such as male and female locker rooms, she said.

Bocchini said the technical center also has a large waiting list for many of its programs because there simply is not enough space to meet the demand.

“Improving our facility will allow us to serve more students and expand our training opportunities,” she said.

Mike Aimble, instructor for the center’s carpentry program, said all technical jobs will benefit from the Chinese investment, and students with the proper skills will thrive.

“The long-term for us is a dramatic increase in student placement in the workforce,” he said. “Anytime you get more industry it’s going to create more buildings, and you need people to build them. There is a lot of forecasted growth in the construction industry.”

Rodney Northrop, automotive and collision repair instructor for the tech center, said automotive jobs will be particularly important because many companies maintain fleets of vehicles and employees have to travel to work. Companies like Hino Motors in Williamstown, which builds industry fleet trucks, have seen significant growth and expansion in recent years due to industrial demand. Students who can work on vehicles, whether it be engines, electrical systems or collision repair, are increasingly valuable and often see immediate employment, he said.

Assistant Superintendent Mike Fling, who oversees facilities for Wood County Schools, said the SBA will announce grant recipients Monday.