PARKERSBURG – Students entering Wood County Schools’ technical and career plans this fall will find themselves entering a virtual workforce.
The Wood County Technical Center, which includes the Caperton Center for Applied Technology, will join this fall with the West Virginia Simulated Workplace Initiative. The initiative is a project of the West Virginia Department of Education.
Doug Kiger, director of the Wood County Tech Center, said the program will begin in August, but work on the project has already begun. Officials have been recruiting students in grades 8-10, with a focus on sophomores, for the two-year technical programs.
Kiger said in the Simulated Workplace Initiative, each individual program, such as auto repair or carpentry, is treated as a separate business. This means students apply for jobs in the programs and treat classes as if they were going to work.
Kiger said he expects to receive funding to place electronic time clocks in each classroom, and just like with a regular job students will punch in and out, be responsible for absences and have a set of responsibilities based on their position within the business.
“What Simulated Workplace does, we take each of our businesses and they run like a business,” Kiger said. “The students are, with supervision, going to set up their own leadership.”
Students will have a safety foreman and someone in charge of attendance, basically jobs in a regular business, Kiger said. Local businesses will observe and evaluate programs, he said.
“We are going to try to make it as realistic as possible,” Kiger said.
Simulating a business also means the students agree to random drug testing.
“Every business we’ve talked to wants a well-trained, well-educated and drug-free workforce,” Kiger said. “They want to know these are employees who can be trained and they want employees that can work in teams. They also want their employees drug-free.
“Parents sign off on the random drug testing and every student that applies to the program understands the expectation. For the most part every student that has applied has said ‘That’s fine, bring it on.’ “
Kiger said this year there were 469 applicants for about 290 classroom seats. Participation in a program can vary widely, he said, with some classes expected to begin with 2-3 open slots and other programs, such as welding, CAD and therapeutic programs, having wait lists of up to 80 students.
Kiger said each student is evaluated on criteria including grade point average and attendance to determine if they qualify for a program and the order in which they are accepted. Kiger said officials are careful to keep the evaluation process as fair as possible.
“If you are only accepting 20 students (in a program), you have to be able to explain to the parents of No, 23 why they didn’t get in,” he said.
Kiger said he is working with officials to find funding to expand course offerings and keep equipment in all of the programs up to date, but in most instances students will find themselves working in the Simulated Workplace with the same kinds of tools and equipment they would encounter in the actual workplace.
“We try to give them the best we can,” Kiger said.
For more information on the state Simulated Workplace Initiative, visit wvde.state.wv.us/simulated-workplace/.
For more information on the Wood County Technical Center, visit wcvt.wood.tec.wv.us/.