Gov. Justice celebrates hospitality and tourism education programs launching in all 55 counties

CRAIGSVILLE, WV –– Gov. Jim Justice spoke to students about career opportunities in the state’s growing tourism industry during a visit to Nicholas County Career and Technical Center.

The event marked the beginning of hospitality and tourism education programs statewide, developed as a part of a new workforce development initiative, Tourism Works. This program was launched by the Department of Tourism earlier this year to prepare for the projected growth of more than 21,000 annual job openings in the state’s tourism industry through 2025.

“We’re going to start teaching and training our students to be prepared for the jobs that are on the way, and this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Gov. Justice said. “We’ve got tourism jumpstarted like you can’t even imagine. We might go from 21,000 to 210,000 job openings in the blink of an eye. West Virginia is the most special place on the planet. We are absolutely the diamond in the rough the world has missed. Keep it going.”
As the Governor told students during the event, these are good paying jobs. Of the projected 21,000 annual openings, 10,000 are expected to be management-level positions with salaries approaching $60,000, according to data from the Higher Education Policy Commission. The education component of this federally funded program focuses on educating the state’s next generation in tourism-related fields, preparing for the substantial increase in job openings projected for the industry, and connecting students with viable career opportunities. 

The location of the announcement at Nicholas County Career and Technical Center also highlights the Department of Tourism’s ongoing workforce training partnerships with schools across the state. Nicholas County CTC students have constructed the one-of-a-kind Almost Heaven swings that the Department has placed at the most iconic scenic spots across the state, and the Center is planning to train other high school programs to complete similar tourism-related projects.
“The experiences our career technical center students are gaining from this partnership and others like it are invaluable,” State Superintendent of Schools David L. Roach said. “The skills that the Nicholas County CTC students acquire as part of this project are second-to-none. Thousands of people will use these swings each year, and this gives us an opportunity to display the quality of work our students are capable of providing. Beyond that, these young people are extremely excited to create these beautiful installations and be a part of such a worthy cause. It is great for their development and for their portfolios.”

The tourism industry in West Virginia is poised to employ more and more West Virginians in the coming years, with jobs that range from seasonal employment to executive and management level positions. Tourism brought in approximately $5 billion in visitor spending last year – a record for the state – along with nearly $300 million in recent private tourism investment and tourism tax credit applications, which will expand tourism infrastructure in the state. 

“Thanks to the Governor’s historic investment in West Virginia State Parks and tourism as a whole, we’re seeing an incredible return already,” West Virginia Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby said. “With so much growth in the industry, it’s vital that we focus on developing a solid workforce, and that work begins in our schools. I’ve really enjoyed working with the students in Nicholas County over the past couple of years, and look forward to developing more relationships with students across the state. This program is an opportunity to really invest in the younger generation of West Virginians, as well as the folks currently working in the industry, to better equip them for the great things ahead for the Mountain State.”
Tourism Works includes multiple initiatives designed to comprehensively support the tourism industry’s growing workforce. On Tuesday, the spotlight was on the Shape Our Future initiative, which includes the following:Hospitality and tourism education has been launched in all 55 counties across the state, with plans for further expansion and updates to the curriculum rolling out next year.All 55 counties have been engaged in the process to update the tourism and hospitality curriculum to make it more relevant to today’s tourism opportunities.Tourism is now a career path that is highlighted at the middle school level in schools across West Virginia, as part of the Discover Your Future Program.A new specialization in tourism marketing is expected to launch this fall in schools who have signed on for this new part of the tourism curriculum.A tourism pathway program is currently being piloted and will allow students to gain college credits and career certifications at the high school level.The Departments of Education and Tourism are currently accepting applications from schools for Tourism EPIC grants that will award funding for students to create tourism infrastructure projects on public lands in their regionsThe Departments of Education and Tourism are working together to connect tourism industry representatives and schools directly to create more opportunities for hands-on learning.Nicholas County is also a fantastic example of well-established connections between the tourism industry and schools. Nicholas County students also showcased their Good Gauley Coffee Company on Tuesday. This student-run coffee shop and roastery, another program of the county’s Career and Technical Center, offers students the opportunity to gain experience in all aspects of managing a coffee shop. The students cater events and even roast the beans on-site. Initiatives like this help students to build real-world skills and also demonstrate how so many industries from carpentry to the ATV mechanic field are supported by the state’s expanding tourism industry. 
The county has a longstanding commitment to tourism and students. The Summerville Convention and Visitors Bureau holds student contests each year to recognize students in elementary, middle, and high school who submit tourism-related artworks, essays, and advertisements about the benefits of working in the industry. Local tourism businesses, such as the Mountain Lakes Campground, have also worked with Nicholas County students to provide hands-on experiences with building cabins for visitors, further increasing the area’s tourism infrastructure. 

In addition to the West Virginia Department of Education, the Department of Tourism is also partnering with the West Virginia Department of Economic Development and West Virginia’s Community and Technical Colleges to launch additional components of Tourism Works in the coming year. The Tourism Works program is funded by a $5.1 million grant awarded to the West Virginia Department of Tourism by the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

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