Task force on education, workforce development holds inaugural meeting – Charleston Gazette-Mail

The state’s blue ribbon task force on developing post-secondary education opportunities for purposes of improving the workforce held its first meeting on Friday, discussing direction and assigning committee chairs in the process.

Formed through an executive order signed by Gov. Jim Justice earlier this month, the task force aims to provide increased and improved educational opportunities which would, in turn, provide employers with individuals possessing different skill sets.

Ann Urling, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, is the chair of the task force and led the meeting, which featured nine attendees in person and six via videoconference.

Among those gathered at the Capitol was Sarah Tucker, the chancellor of both the the state Community and Technical College System and the Higher Education Policy Commission. As members discussed the direction of the group, she emphasized the need for developing strong opportunities.

By 2030, according to Tucker, 60% of West Virginia residents must have some sort of post-secondary education in order to maintain the existing economy. Currently, only 42.6% of residents fit the criteria. The state’s rate of high school graduates going on to attend college is 48.2%, roughly eight percentage points below the national average of 56.5%.

“The problem is more systemic than any one of us, I think, is capable of managing,” Tucker said. “It’s too big. We’ve got to find a way to work on this together.”

Task force members from business backgrounds voiced their concerns with the current state of employment and finding employees.

Ray Burke Jr., president of Better Foods Inc., said the COVID-19 pandemic has further affected the employee pool and the hiring process, and that a reason needs to be found to motivate people to work and develop social skills.

“We are definitely in a system that is broken,” Burke said. “I do believe that somehow we are losing the kids before they ever even get to the point where we can save them because of the fact that they really don’t have a clue.”

In addition to those previously mentioned, those in attendance Friday were Scott Adkins, acting executive director of WorkForce West Virginia; Clinton Burch, senior officer with the Department of Education’s Office of Technical and Adult Education; Delegate Larry Pack, R-Kanawha; Maria Larry, executive director of Region 6 Workforce Development Board; Jeremiah Samples, deputy secretary of the Department of Health & Human Resources; and Casey Sacks, vice chancellor for the West Virginia Community and Technical College System.

In attendance through video conference was Peter Checkovich, president of Blue Ridge Community & Technical College; Chris Gilmer, president of WVU Parkersburg; Jake Hunt, executive director of Region 2 Workforce; Jack Rife, general counsel for the Department of Commerce; Tracy Miller, President of Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex; and Steve Cox, senior manager of human resources at Toyota West Virginia.

Secretary of Commerce Ed Gaunch was unable to attend due to a prior engagement. Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, was issued a nameplate for the meeting but was not in attendance.

The task force’s next meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. July 9.