By JOSELYN KING, For The Times Leader
WHEELING - While the number of industrial jobs decreased in the Ohio Valley in recent decades, local educators believe there are now more jobs for today's youth in the technical trades than there are students to fill them.
The educators were asked, "What industrial job opportunities exist in the local area for those leaving high school or college?"
Educators pointed toward the new types of jobs in industry that require a combination of electrical and mechanical training - which schools and employers are now calling "mechatronics."
At the Belmont-Harrison Career Center, local industries are seeking graduates especially for machine trades jobs, noted Bill Glitch, marketing coordinator.
"We have a demand for it, but we don't get enough students in the program," Glitch said. "The biggest problem we have is getting students interested.
"After they turn 18, they are eligible for early job placement. But there are more positions available than there are students."
There are currently14 students in the machine trades program at the Belmont-Harrison Career Center, according to Glitch.
"In that particular field, people are retiring and there are not enough young people interested enough to go in and take their positions," he continued. "Companies are seeking tool and die makers, and drill pressers that make parts for automobiles, airplanes and anything they can put together to make run. They also make parts for appliances.
"Mull Machine (in Wheeling) and other companies in the area have openings - but the workers have to be trained. And we're the only placed to be trained while you are still in high school."
Glitch said the school has "tried everything" to get students interested in training for the jobs. They've had former students come back and talk to students about their successes, and have had representatives from the businesses themselves address the students.
"At that age, they're not thinking that far ahead," he commented.
Mike Koon, vice president of economic and workforce development at West Virginia Northern Community College, agreed there are many industrial job opportunities for high school and college graduates entering the work force.
"The baby boomers are retiring, and there's a big push for people to work in industry," he said. "But you have to have advanced technical skills. You have to have a background in industrial maintenance, electrical skills and mechanical skills.
"Most industries want their workers to be cross-trained. They want them to be able to trouble-shoot equipment.""
WVNCC has started its mechatronics program this semester at its Weirton Campus, and the program combines electrical and mechanical training, Koon continued.
Similar classes will be offered at the Wheeling campus in 2013 after the former Straub building is renovated to accommodate them, he added.
Through its mechatronics program, WVNCC will offer "steelworker of the future" classes in partnership with ArcelorMittal Steel. The school will direct the curriculum, while the company will provide internships, Koon said.
He noted it is "too early to tell" whether the new offerings will appeal to students, but he said enough students did apply to fill the mechatronics program in its first semester.
"I can't say yea or nay yet, but I'm hoping," Koon commented. "Arcelor would like to have every student we can put through the program in the next couple of years.