BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – For the past two years, the Robert C. Byrd Institute has partnered with West Virginia Women Work to offer the Step Up for Women program at its Huntington location.  It’s an introductory course to careers in manufacturing.  Now, that program has come to Bridgeport, and its first class got its start on Monday.

The Institute said it’s part of an effort to diversify the industry’s workforce.

“We know that there’s a need in the manufacturing industry for skilled workers, and women are underrepresented in the industry.  About 29 percent of all manufacturing jobs in the U.S. are held by women,” said Mike Friel, public information specialist.

But more importantly, it’s about giving those women who take the class a path to a permanent, long-lasting career.  The program is free of charge to participants, and they’re also provided with the safety equipment needed for the ten-week course.  And that accessibility is a priority for organizers.

“We have geared our program to benefit women who are low-income, who have children.  That’s a lot of who we look for.  Our program is to make women self-sufficient.  That is our main goal, it’s self-sufficiency for women,” said Lakiesha Hines, program coordinator.

Often, Friel said women who complete the course find a job or further apprenticeship by the time their course work is done.  And that’s more important now:  3.5 million jobs in the industry are expected to be created in the next decade, and more than half of those may go unfilled without people to get it done.

“We all work and live in a global economy and for American manufacturers, and indeed, those here in West Virginia to be successful, to be able to compete in this global economy, we have to have a higher level of skilled workers,” said Friel.

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