Government Officials and Business Leaders Monitor West Virginia Labor Needs | News, Sports, Jobs

Steven Allen Adams TEST INSPECTION – Steve White, left, director of affiliated building trades in West Virginia, inspects a test weld at the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 667 Apprenticeship Training Facility at Winfield.

WHITE SULFUR SPRINGS — West Virginia has a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless: With new businesses coming to the state and major construction projects on the horizon, will there be enough workers to fill the jobs needed.

“My biggest concern is whether we will have the workforce to meet the demand people want and what we can do. That’s what we need to be able to do.” said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., in a ballroom at the Greenbrier Resort on Thursday for the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 86th Annual Meeting and Business Summit.

“We are going to have to recruit a lot of workers in the state of West Virginia,” Manchin continued. “We don’t have them and we can’t produce them from within. We’ll have to go out and get them. This is where they should come.

“Things I hear almost all the time are inflationary concerns, supply chain concerns, and labor concerns that are plaguing the state and the country,” said U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., later the same day at the business summit.

This week alone, Seattle-based electric boat maker Pure Watercraft announced it would set up a facility in Brooke County to build electric pontoon boats and create 100 jobs. California-based Sparkz has announced it will build an electric battery factory in Taylor County near Bridgeport and create 350 jobs.

Work on the site continues with North Carolina-based steel fabricator Nucor. The company is building an electric arc furnace steel mill in Mason County. When construction begins in earnest at the end of the year or in early 2023, it will require 200 jobs to start and up to 2,000 jobs during the peak construction period. Nucor announced the new plant in January.

And state officials are working to get approval from the U.S. Department of Energy for a regional hydrogen center to create blue hydrogen derived from the state’s abundant natural gas supplies and to use carbon capture and sequestration to pump greenhouse gases created underground. If approved, the massive project will employ thousands of construction workers over a period of years.

“I’m very optimistic about the construction industry in West Virginia,” said Steve White, director of building trades affiliates in West Virginia. “There’s a lot of money that’s going to go into hard infrastructure which is much needed and overdue. There will be plenty of typical roads and bridges, pipelines, etc., but there are even more. There are great opportunities, like the hydrogen hub, carbon sequestration, which could lead to gas-fired power plants.

“These are great job creators and there’s a great opportunity for our state, but the opportunity doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” White continued. “We really need our leaders to focus on these great opportunities for our local residents.”


According to West Virginia’s Economic Outlook for 2022-2026, released by the West Virginia University Office of Business and Economic Research at the John Chambers College of Business and Economics, the state is expected to experience modest job growth. in construction over the next two years. years.

The report’s authors cite several freeway construction projects, such as the $210 million I-70 Bridge Repair and Replacement Program in Ohio County. The authors also cite several federal projects funded through the CARES Act, the US Bailout Act, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“…Growth will be stronger in the first half of the five-year forecast horizon thanks to increased federal and state infrastructure spending and healthy demand for new housing,” says the report.

The report’s authors see increased potential for new jobs in the manufacturing and energy sectors, particularly in downstream industries that would benefit from increased natural gas production.

“…Other factors bode well for manufacturing activity going forward and offer significant upside potential,” says the report. “For example, the energy sector is expected to rebound in the near term and should drive higher payrolls and business activity for machinery, fabricated metals and various other manufacturers as the production of coal, natural gas and NGLs will increase over the next two years. ”

West Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for July was 3.7%, down from an all-time low of 3.5% in May, but still very low, meaning those looking for work are finding jobs. But according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, West Virginia still has the worst labor force participation rate in the country, at 55.2%.

That’s up from a pandemic low of 52.7% in April 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, but still down from 56.2% in May 2009 when the country was slipping into the Great Recession caused by the collapse of the housing market. The participation rate measures the number of people employed or looking for work compared to those who have completely left the labor force.

Another factor that could affect the number of workers needed for current and future projects is competition for these jobs from other states. The Associated Press reported construction plans in Ohio in August, including for a semiconductor fab for Intel that could employ more than 3,000 people by 2025.

“Labour leaders and state officials recognize that there is not currently a pool of 7,000 additional workers in central Ohio, where other projects underway include a 28-story Hilton near from downtown Columbus, a $2 billion addition to the Ohio State University Medical Center, and a $365 million investment in Amgen’s biofabrication plant not far from Intel’s plant,” says the article.


Brian Dayton is the Vice President of Policy and Defense for the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Speaking after morning sessions of the business summit on Thursday, Dayton said labor issues are top of mind for small businesses and large manufacturers.

“It is something that absolutely must be resolved” said Dayton. “We’re facing a labor shortage here, but it’s not just in West Virginia. It’s nationwide. It really increases the pressure to make sure we train our workers well.

West Virginia has tried to work on these issues for the past few years. The West Virginia Invests Grant Program created by the Legislature in 2019 is a last-dollar program that covers the cost of high-demand associate degree programs after all federal grants and scholarships are exhausted.

A Blue Ribbon task force created by Gov. Jim Justice last year issued recommendations in February for a single portal for residents to register for services, including vocational training, training services consolidation employment in state agencies and incentives for employers to work with state agencies. to find the necessary workers and train them. In June, the Department of Justice appointed a Workforce Resilience Officer to implement the task force’s recommendations.

“Everyone Comes Together” said Dayton. “We recognize that we have challenges, but people are working very hard to address them and to ensure that we are training workers to fill the jobs that will be available. These are good paying jobs coming…these will be great opportunities, but we need to make sure the workers are there.

One group excluded from the governor’s workforce planning is unionized workers. For example, Local 667 of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers has a statewide apprenticeship program located in Winfield, in the shadow of the John Amos Generating Station. Boilermakers work on a variety of projects, from power plant infrastructure to chemical plants, from petroleum to nuclear.

During a tour of the apprenticeship facility last week, White said the boilermaker apprenticeship program is paid for by union members and is tuition-free, offering a mix of classroom instruction, practical training and on-the-job training supervised by experienced people. companions.

White said he would like to see unions participate in the conversation about the workforce, including creating partnerships between trade school programs in high schools and allowing union members to see their training in apprenticeship count for credits in a two-year community and technical college. White said the trades have the same issues integrating workers into their apprenticeship programs.

“I am completely confident that we can provide the necessary manpower,” said White. “We have the best training facilities, infrastructure, instructors, bricks and mortar. We just don’t have enough apprentices. We could accommodate more if we had more jobs to put them. The key is the jobs on which to place the apprentices. We could take unemployed and underemployed people, give them great skills and get good pay. This opportunity is before us.

(Adams can be contacted at [email protected])

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Bonny J. Streater