The manufacturing pathway, D'Antoni said, offers courses in machine tooling, drafting, welding, problem solving, critical thinking and technical writing, among others. Students acquire skills at tech schools that can land them good-paying jobs and make paying for college affordable, according to Potter.
"A technical school doesn't limit opportunities it expands them," Ponphieu said. "A welder makes a lot of money. Someone who can trouble shoot hydraulic systems can make a lot of money."
Recently, Potter said, the owner of a heating and cooling business spoke to school officials about his experience in the technical industry.
"He said his dad made him learn a trade before he went to school to become a banker. All the way through college he worked in HVAC and paid his way through school. When he graduated, he realized he'd be taking a pay cut to become a banker," she said.
For some, college is not the answer, according to D'Antoni, who said the overwhelming expectation to go on to college is partly to blame for the shortage of skilled employees. There's a misconception that the only way to get a good-paying job is with a college degree, she said.
"In the 1950s and '60s not nearly as many people were going to college and about 20 percent of jobs required a four-year degree," she said. "Unskilled jobs made up about 60 percent."
Today, the percentage of jobs available for college graduates remains at 20 percent, she said, but the number of college graduates trying to get those jobs has increased dramatically.
"There are 350 manufacturing jobs [in West Virginia] that could be filled tomorrow if employees had the right skill sets," D'Antoni said.
Putnam County Superintendent Chuck Hatfield has said a large number of high school graduates in Putnam go on to college, but that nearly two out of three don't earn a degree. For that reason, Putnam schools have started focusing on career readiness skills and are developing programs to help students figure out career paths.
"So many young people are stepping from high school to college with no career focus and people can't afford not to know what they want to do," D'Antoni said, noting the rising cost of tuition.
While she would never discourage someone from attending college, D'Antoni said students should become more aware of available career and learning options.
Being aware of job opportunities is something the state Department of Education plans to stress more to students in the future. First, however, a misconception that attending a technical school means a student is not as academically capable must be dispelled, she said.
"The sad thing is, is most people think going to a career and tech center means you're not academically good. That's not true anymore. We're passed the age when a four-year degree guarantees you a job," D'Antoni said.
"People have to understand that all occupations have a technical side. Students need to think at a young age, 'I really like taking things apart and building things, I could be an engineer.' Well why aren't you at the career center taking drafting and machining to be a step ahead if you go on to engineering school?"
Reach Kate White at kate.wh...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.