FAIRMONT, W.Va. — The challenges of reskilling workers in West Virginia and throughout the country are getting some national attention.
Pierpont Community & Technical College recently received praise from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) for its innovative programs offered at the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center in Bridgeport to combat those challenges.
“It’s really an honor for Pierpont to be mentioned, any school to be mentioned, in an official report that’s coming from the Executive Office of the President of the United States,” Pierpont President Dr. Johnny Moore said. “That’s an honor in itself, regardless of what they’re mentioning your name for. We’re very thankful and honored to be mentioned.”
But perhaps more important to Moore than the honor itself is the fact that the issue is now being talked about.
“I think nationally what’s happening is that people are beginning to realize something I’ve been saying for quite some time — community colleges are truly a vital pathway to prosperity for the America’s entire education ecosystem, particularly so in the state of West Virginia,” he said.
Moore said this is particularly vital in West Virginia because “a skilled and educated workforce equates to a healthier economy.
“Community colleges, in partnerships with local industries, offer, I believe, some of the most innovative reskilling programs in the United States, and that’s why we were highlighted because of some of the things that we’re doing, in particularly so through our Byrd Center,” he said.
However, to make programs like this possible, it’s taken the university gaining a lot of outside financial support.
Federal grants, EPA grants and Appalachian Region Commission grants, “in combination with the support from the state to provide opportunities for people to retool and reskill,” Moore said.
But for students, grants aren’t an option, he said.
Pell grants, which Moore said are key to many students in the state, are not available to individuals who have already obtained a four-year degree.
“Federal funding needs to be reformed to cover high-quality, short-term types of retraining programs,” he said. “That’s where community colleges come into play, and that’s why we need some assistance.”
Moore is hopeful this recognition will be only the beginning of discussion on the topic of community colleges and retraining programs, and that we’ll see more nationwide efforts toward retooling and reskilling for all careers as opposed to the national trend to frontload our lives with education.
“After 25, there’s nothing in place for you to be retooled and reskilled,” he said. “Some employers offer some support, but a lot of times we don’t have the support to do it.”
These retraining programs not only allow displaced workers to come out in as little as 12-weeks depending on their chosen program, they also prevent any piled up students loans in the process, which Moore said is a huge attraction when they’re already dealing with financial struggles of being laid off.
“A lot of people want to retool and reskill, it’s just that most people do not have the luxury of sitting out because they have responsibilities,” he said. “They can’t stop working and go retool and reskill. Those are the types of things in our country, I think, that we need to begin to address.”