Preston County receives results from survey of businesses
KINGWOOD — A survey of businesses provides a roadmap for where jobs will be for Prestonians in the years ahead and how to prepare the workforce to fill them.
The Preston County Chamber of Commerce, Preston County Schools and Career Readiness West Virginia are collaborating on the project.
Frank Vitale is president and CEO of Forge Business Solutions, which developed and manages Career Readiness. The program is funded by a grant from
Mountain State Educational Services Cooperative and 29 counties are participating so far.
Just before the pandemic hit, Career Readiness was set to survey employers in person on Preston County. The group instead did an online survey. The response was better than in other counties, Vitale said.
The report was issued recently and includes pre-COVID and post-COVID findings.
“The lock down and the quarantine was still very fresh on folks’ minds when they completed this,” Vitale said. “So as we continue to open up the state some of this may change, but it is very eye opening.”
Relying on information from WorkForce West Virginia, the report lists the 10 largest employers in Preston County, from one to 10, as: The federal prison system, Preston County Board of Education, Mon Health, C.W. Wright Construction, Walmart, Preston Contractors, Superior Reedsville Filtration, the
Adjutant General (Camp Dawson) and Kingwood Center (Pine Ridge).
Per capita income in 2018 dollars, for 2014-2018, is $23,337 for Preston County, compared to $25,479 for the state. Average civilian labor participation rate is 52.5% for the county, versus 53.1% for the state.
Median household income in Preston, is higher than in the state — $48,317 versus $44,921. “What that tells me is Preston County has a lot of multiple incomes per household,” Vitale said.
The report is step two in the process, Vitale noted. (The survey was step one.) This is a summary report.
He hopes leaders will use this community feedback “and identify gaps from not only workforce needs and identifying opportunities, identifying gaps, but also identifying misconceptions” about the jobs available and the education needed.
For example, the report lists current opportunities in the job market for those with four-year and two-year college degrees, technical certification, high school diploma and no high school diploma.
Those range from information technology to respiratory therapists, water plant operators to mechanics and construction to laborers.
The report is also specific on opportunities for those with handicaps and for those who serve in the National Guard and Reserves.
A partnership between educators and business is critical, Vitale said. And since about 50% of West Virginians work for small businesses, he hopes a spirit of entrepreneurship is fostered in students too.
“We’ve collected information. We’ve given context to that information, and we’ve given recommendations on potential programs that the board of education, in conjunction with the chamber of commerce could deploy,” Vitale said. “However, it’s up to them to take it to the next level.”
Collaboration is key, he said. The group encourages counties to collaborate on programs, sharing resources like programs already in existence in one county that can be shared with others.
One of the things underscored by the survey is Preston County’s poor access to broadband. Students and workers need access.
“I think that the future of particularly our more rural counties is tethered to our ability to mobilize our workforce,” Vitale said.
Otherwise, rural counties continue to shrink in population and there’s no money to maintain resources, he said.
“I’d like to thank the business community for their thoughtful responses to the Career Readiness Survey,” said Kristy Ash, executive director of the Preston Chamber.
“I am encouraged by the suggested plan set by Career Readiness West Virginia and anticipate further planning through the Preston County Task Force’s Workforce Development Committee,” she said. “The Chamber is dedicated to working with our board of education and local industry to prepare our students for the job market, giving them every opportunity to thrive throughout their future careers.”