CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Saying their members can't find qualified workers, the West Virginia Manufacturers Association has developed a curriculum for high school students emphasizing math and science skills.
"We have a skill shortage not just in West Virginia, but all over the country," said Karen Price, the group's president.
Employers "have reached a crisis" because they can't find employees that have a work ethic and specific skill sets to hire, according to Kathy D'Antoni, assistant state superintendent of career and technical education.
"If not for all the retirements we probably wouldn't have heard anything about this," said D'Antoni, referring to baby boomers approaching retirement age. "It's something we should have done before now."
In Putnam County, where test scores prove students are academically strong, teachers are beginning to stress "soft skills," such as promptness and work ethic to students at all grade levels, which business leaders have said employees are missing.
Plans to expand career and technical facilities around the state, most of which already have full class sizes, and to increase awareness about their programs to middle school aged students and perhaps even elementary students, are in the works, according to D'Antoni.
"Our whole economy has changed. All the good paying, quality jobs are now skill based - technicians, people with certifications -- industries are crying out for people," she said.
Members of the manufacturers association approached the state Department of Education about two years ago to discuss what skills they've noticed job applicants and new hires are lacking.
"About six or eight of my plant managers sat down over a couple days discussing what skills they thought kids graduating from high school should have so they could get jobs at the facilities," Price said.
The association and the department of education came up with a manufacturing pathway, focused on math and science, safety and a combination of other technical skills. Ben Franklin Career and Technical Center in Dunbar and Randolph County Technical Center are the only two schools offering the curriculum now, but Price said it's available to any school that chooses to adopt it.
Dewey Ponphieu, who teaches the manufacturing program at Ben Franklin, said students struggle with math because they don't believe they'd ever need to use the skills.
"That's what we teach and emphasize here," he said. "We teach the math that goes along with the careers. At a tech school you discover what it's used for."
Ben Franklin has about 16 students participating in the manufacturing program that began at the school in January, according to Principal Paula Potter. The school is in the process of adding robotics courses into the manufacturing curriculum, she said.
The challenge Potter and Ponphieu face at Ben Franklin is getting students and parents to realize attending a career and technical school doesn't have to be an alternative to college.
"Unfortunately many people have the perception that career schools are for students not going to college and that's not the case now," Potter said "Students that attend career schools earn free college hours that transfer to [community and technical colleges] or four year university programs."