(12/04/2007)
By Bob Weaver

Experts in economics, education and welfare agree that a big problem in West Virginia is adults with few skills.

Coupled with a lack of skills is a lack of opportunity to work at jobs that pay decent wages, leading to a state of hopelessness.

Thousands of manufacturing jobs, many low-end, have gone abroad, with some critics saying we end up training people for jobs that do not exist.

Educator's say a key to improving West Virginia's long-struggling economy is developing the state's "human capital."

West Virginia's adults are in need of education and training to build and sustain new industries, according to business leaders.

A national study released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation says that in 2005, almost 40 percent of West Virginia's children live in homes "where no parent has full-time, year-round employment."

The state was ranked 46th in the USA in that category - 40% of the state's parents were considered "idle."

West Virginia University economist George Hammond says "We're a heavily rural state and sometimes what we see in these rural states is that the informal economy tends to be relatively large. There are opportunities or ways that individuals or families can make their way without necessarily holding the types of full-time jobs we think about as traditional full-time work."

Hammond says that some people are able to lead relatively stable lives through part-time seasonal work and bartering for goods.

He says more importantly "The other major part is that West Virginia's economy doesn't do very well typically in terms of generating job growth in relatively high-paying, full-time occupations."

Another recent study said West Virginia is at the bottom with college graduation.

"Only 16.9 percent of West Virginians aged 25 and older have a bachelors degree and that's last in the country," said Brian Noland, chancellor of the state Higher Education Policy Commission.

Nolan says many adults don't realize they can get scholarships to help pay for college, regardless of how well - or badly - they did in high school.

There are problems with bureaucracy.

"This coming fall there are about 3,300 Pell-eligible students who will not get a state grant because they did not fill out a secondary state application," Noland said.

Pell grants are federal funds for college students.

"We can pay for training programs for individual recipients, anything available at the vocational tech centers or other proprietary schools that operate in a recipient's respective county," said Sue Buster, Director of the Division of Family Assistance.

"It has to be something that would lead to employment," she added, citing nursing as an in-demand work sector in many parts of the state.

For some, the vicious circle of poverty and educational shortcoming starts long before adulthood.

Poverty causes students sometimes to leave school to get work and we have pockets of extreme poverty in West Virginia.

The state's 21st Century Schools initiative is suppose to help students' to see a relevance to getting a job after high school, and that the work they do is tied to them being successful either in employment or college right after high school.


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