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Dr. Jo Harris, president of Bridgemont Community & Technical College, explains aspects of her school’s agreement with Toyota at Tuesday’s gathering of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association. Announcing the “learn to earn” program, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, pictured at rear, said, “We can no longer sit in our community colleges and wait for clients to come through the door.”

Toyota is teaming with Bridgemont Community and Technical Community College to let students earn up to $40,000 in five semesters of classwork, and one industry leader wants to see the program expanded to other manufacturers.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told the West Virginia Manufacturers Association at its gathering Tuesday at The Resort at Glade Springs that a healthy relationship with the Japanese automaker began back when Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was governor.

Despite advances in tax reform and sticking to a balanced budget without raising taxes, Tomblin said the state needs a reliable and trained workforce.

“One fear I have is having enough trained employees,” he told the association.

In advance of the first step in the education-to-work program, Tomblin said he met with leaders of community and technical schools to outline his vision in which students can get the training and earn some money simultaneously.

“We can no longer sit in our community colleges and wait for clients to come through the door,” he said, in urging school leaders to begin actively pursuing programs similar to the Toyota-Bridgemont one. Another participant in the plan is Kureha PGA.

“The lesson we should learn here today is this is something you and your businesses should consider looking at and teaming up with local community and technical colleges to try to help hone the skills of your employees.”

Bridgemont’s president, Jo Harris, said students will take classes two days weekly at the South Charleston campus, then put in three days of work at the Buffalo plant of Toyota, earning just over $17 an hour, with a goal in mind of avoiding student debt in the “learn and earn” program. Tuition at the school runs about $1,950 per semester.

Before Tomblin spoke, the manufacturers were updated on the Boy Scouts of America complex and plans for the 2013 Jamboree in Fayette County.

“Just as The Summit is setting the course for the future of scouting, I think Bridgemont-Toyota is setting the course with the future of manufacturing education,” Harris said.

“Our goal is to have this first ‘learn and earn’ program as a model for other community colleges in the state.”

Karen Price, executive director of the manufacturers association, said her organization has embraced the concept and will encourage the membership to take an active role in it.

“You’re going to find the community colleges are very responsive to the needs of manufacturers in West Virginia,” she told her membership.

Jim Skidmore, chancellor of West Virginia’s community-technical college system, said the idea came from a similar one in force in Kentucky, likewise with Toyota.

“Increasing the education attainment rates of West Virginians is vital because as our highly-skilled technical work force grows, so do the prospects for new industries and new jobs across the state,” Skidmore said.

In a statement, Rockefeller hailed the Toyota-Bridgemont pact as “more great news” for the state.

“Innovation is laying the foundation for a new generation of manufacturing jobs in West Virginia, and I’m so impressed by the partnership between Toyota and Bridgemont Community and Technical College,” the senator said.

Not only will the outcome find West Virginia with an improved workforce, Tomblin said, but manufacturers will benefit from lowering operating costs.

And, he added, all businesses should have no trouble finding a school in their region to hammer out such a plan.

“We have community colleges covering every corner of this state,” he said.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

 

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