Washington, DC—An Appalachian Hardwood industry training proposal has received $1.5 million in federal funding to prepare workers for sawmill and secondary manufacturing jobs. The Appalachian Regional Commission recently approved a 2021 POWER Grant to Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (DSLCC) and Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers, Inc. (AHMI), headquartered here, for the Appalachian Hardwood Training Initiative (AHTI). The three-year project will develop educational and training opportunities for those employed in the industry’s regional sawmills and Hardwood manufacturing facilities.
The initiative begins with educators, businesses, and workforce providers in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia developing the training. Two other schools, Glenville State College in West Virginia and Big Sandy Community College in Kentucky, will assist with development and offer training and courses. The program will expand to all Appalachian states.
“We are honored to receive this important grant from ARC,” said Dr. John Rainone, DSLCC president. “Addressing the workforce needs of the Hardwood industry is a critical role for all of our wonderful partners, and it is our hope to develop educational and training opportunities for those employed in the industry’s sawmills and wood manufacturing facilities throughout the ARC region as well as for unemployed and underemployed individuals in the region.”
AHMI members identified key skills required by the industry, providing a foundation to address current gaps. AHTI will use a multi-pronged strategy that (1) minimizes geographical boundary impact, (2) engages employers, and (3) develops shared curricula.
“Sawmills have very specific needs for training that have historically been ‘on the job’,” said Tom Inman, AHMI president. “We recognize if we can better train existing and future workers in classroom and off-production settings, they can go to work immediately.”
A 2016 study attributes $91.7 billion in economic impact and over 510,000 related jobs in ARC states. “We can improve the workforce and expand the industry in these rural areas where the resource grows and can be manufactured into products that are in high demand,” Inman said.
The ARC announcement states, “Education and training, complemented by workforce assets, will assist those seeking entry-level positions and provide a laddered approach to other positions within the industry that require higher-level skills at higher wages.” This effort will help mitigate the devastating impact of jobs lost due to changes in the coal industry.
“These ARC POWER grants help to leverage regional partnerships and collaborations to support efforts to create a more vibrant economic future for coal-impacted communities,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “This year’s POWER projects invest in educating and training the Appalachian workforce, nurturing entrepreneurship, and supporting infrastructure—including broadband access. These investments in Appalachian communities are critical in leveling the economic playing field so our communities can thrive.”
This model will form a bridge between the employers and the colleges to develop rapid, real-time training for upskilling and job creation. It also creates a sustainable training model for well beyond the three states and the length of this project. It is expected to recruit, serve, and train up to 950 individuals in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky over three years.
Since 2015, ARC has invested nearly $294.7 million in 369 projects touching 354 counties across Appalachia through the POWER Initiative. Together, these investments are projected to create or retain more than 35,300 jobs, leverage more than $1.5 billion in additional private investment into Appalachia’s economy, and prepare tens of thousands of workers and students for opportunities in entrepreneurship, broadband development, tourism and other industry sectors.
ARC is an economic development partnership agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 423 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia.
For more information, go to www.appalachianhardwood.org.