A Rapid Decline
As we think about the future of our state, what does a vibrant West Virginia look like? We may all have varying answers, but one thing is certain – we can’t achieve it without thinking about the next generation. Unfortunately, West Virginia has the highest rate of population decline in the country, and our population is one of the oldest.
So how do we address this? How do we encourage more young people to choose to move to or stay here in West Virginia?
When we ask young West Virginians why they’ve left or are considering leaving, there are a few answers that we hear over and over: For better opportunities. To find a community or job that meets their needs. To be successful.
Turning to Tech
Generation West Virginia’s programs focus on addressing these issues – so more young people can choose to stay in or move to West Virginia.
NewForce was created after our team saw a gap in the workforce training system in West Virginia. We saw the rapidly increasing need for software developers in West Virginia, and wanted to provide a way for West Virginians to have access to these good paying, high-growth careers. So in 2019, in partnership with the Community and Technical College System and Mountwest CTC, we launched NewForce, our remote software development program. Through this six-month, tuition-free program, we train West Virginians with no prior coding experience, prepare them for their first tech job, and connect them with entry-level software development roles here in the state.
We are currently in the sixth cohort of this program. We just recently wrapped up cohort five, and just a month after graduation, more than 50% of our participants have secured careers in software development, with an average starting salary of $51,000. This program is giving West Virginians a new career pathway, with tools and resources that continue to support their growth long after the six-month training.
Investing in Youth
We are also relaunching our Impact Fellowship program in 2023 to support more young West Virginians. This nine-month program is designed to help early- to mid-career individuals — coming from a variety of backgrounds, sectors, and experiences — find their place, purpose, and people in the Mountain State. Each year, a group of fellows will travel around the state and learn from change makers, work on service projects, and participate in professional development that will help take them to the next level.
This program is also built on the needs of the younger generation. A Gallup study on workforce trends looked at what each generation needs to feel fulfilled in a career, and it found that millennials crave the opportunity for development. When asked what would make them stay with their current company, 87% said that professional growth and development was extremely important – a higher percentage for this response than any other age group. But of those same respondents, about half said they don’t feel engaged at work and are likely to switch jobs within a year.
Another study, by Forbes, found that more than 75% of Gen Z and millennials feel like they have a voice and social capital within their community – an important way for them to connect and express themselves.
The Fellowship will support professional development, helping young West Virginians grow in their careers and helping employers retain talented young colleagues. But we’re confident this program will also reaffirm young West Virginians’ decision to live, work and grow in West Virginia, by introducing them to change makers with incredible success stories, and by expanding their personal and professional relationships that last beyond the fellowship year.
These are just two of Generation West Virginia’s programs, but I hope they paint a picture of why this work is so important to our state. If we are going to attract, retain and advance young people, we have to look at their needs – both in their careers and in their day to day lives – and ensure we’re all building a West Virginia that is a place they want to be.
If you’d like to learn more about these or other Generation WV programs, join our email list at generationwv.org to stay up to date with our work.
About the Author
Alex Weld is the executive director of Generation West Virginia, the statewide organization dedicated to attracting, retaining, and advancing young people in the Mountain State. She and her team are providing accessible programs and educational tools that empower and inspire young leaders by building the tech economy in West Virginia through the organization’s NewForce program, and attracting and retaining West Virginia’s young talent through the Fellowship and Career Connector. She was previously the executive director of Wheeling National Heritage