By Jean A. Flanagan
Moorefield Examiner

When is the right time to start talking to children about a career?
Can the businesses in the community help the school system prepare students for careers after high school?

Frank Vitale, President and Chief Operating Officer of Forge Business Solutions met with business leaders and educators last week to answer those questions. The forum was the beginning of a collaboration between the Hardy County Chamber of Commerce and Hardy County Schools.

“We’re here to address two issues,” Vitale said. “Workforce development and career readiness.”

Members of the chamber who attended included representatives from the health care, banking, restaurant/hotel, manufacturing and waste management industries. Each talked about the types of careers available in their particular industry and the attributes they look for in an employee.

During the conversations, Vitale provided some statistics about Hardy County and work in general.

“Banks have seen a substantial reduction in in-branch transactions,” he said. “Banks have had to react to the fact that we can do our banking on our cellphones.

“Careers in agriculture are using science more than ever.

“Seventy percent of West Virginians have a two-year degree or less.

“Fifty percent of STEM jobs do not require a college degree.

“Hardy County spends $9,500 annually per student.

“Hardy County’s median household is $42,573.

“There are 270,000 students in West Virginia, but only 20,000 in Career and Technical Education.”

Businesses can help the school system and ultimately themselves by opening their doors to students,” Vitale said.

“Some of the things you can do are host student tours, give class presentations, participate in job fairs at school, go to career days at elementary schools.”

Vitale said the schools can do their part to get students thinking about a career early.

“The right time to start talking to students about a career is second grade,” he said. “Whatever their aspirations are at that age, make sure they know it is attainable.

“And how about integrated pathways between CTE and college tracks in high school? Blur the lines between the two.”

Some of the participants suggested the lack of drive to get and keep a career is generational.

“There is no doubt that teachers today have a more difficult job,” Vitale said. “They are getting less support at home. But if we are going to defeat ‘welfareism’ we have to do more.”

Participants were asked to complete a survey regarding their business and what steps they believe would benefit students in career readiness.

The results of the surveys will be compiled and sent to the participants.

“This is the beginning of the conversation,” Vitale said. “It’s up to you to continue it. Be willing to open doors.”

Hardy County Schools Superintendent Sheena VanMeter said she would like to form a committee that would help facilitate better communication and collaboration between the school system and local businesses.