We’ve all endured a high school award ceremony in a crowded gymnasium, where it seems that the same small group of whiz kids rake in all the trophies, certificates, and scholarships.
But as a former high school teacher, I often looked over the bleachers with a different perspective. I knew the students who wouldn’t receive any glory, honor, or accolades that day, even though their motivations were noble and their needs far more urgent:
–I knew that Owen’s path after graduation wouldn’t be celebrated, even though he would sacrifice a four-year degree in favor of a “Learn and Earn” apprenticeship program to support his infant son.
–Gracie would also leave the ceremony empty-handed, but her life after graduation held real purpose: she would enroll in a cosmetology program at our local career center and become the primary caretaker of a relative suffering from a disability.
–Wyatt, the oldest of six children in and out of foster care, would pursue his CDL and give his brothers and sisters a chance at a better life.
Even though students taking alternative paths to the workforce aren’t typically celebrated, as a state, we recognize that there is a critical need for the work of highly trained tradespeople. We invest in free community and technical college, but there remains a final barrier for those completing vocational programs.
These individuals face upfront costs that students who graduate from traditional four-year programs do not: licenses, certifications, equipment, tools, and other business start-up costs present real obstacles preventing full workforce participation.
The Jumpstart Savings Program is designed to help people who enter and complete trade or vocational school to save money to support their careers. It’s similar to a SMART529 plan, but whereas the 529 plan lets you save for the costs of tuition needed to go to school, the Jumpstart Savings Program covers the costs needed to get a job after you graduate.
It allows a person to receive a state tax deduction for contributions to their Jumpstart account to save for their post-graduation expenses needed to enter a skilled trade, and qualified withdrawals from the Jumpstart account may also be eligible for a state tax deduction under certain circumstances.
Employers may even be eligible for state tax credits for making matching contributions to an employee’s Jumpstart account as a recruitment and retention tool.
I see an opportunity for employers to make a real difference in the lives of their new recruits by setting up scholarship or other recruitment programs using Jumpstart Savings accounts to disburse funds and get them on their feet.
It’s a difficult time to encourage people to save, but our team at the WV State Treasurer’s Office is working together with other state agencies to honor the culture of career technical education in our schools, career centers, and community and technical colleges.
We recognize that we are serving vulnerable populations, and we’re committed to providing financial education, beginning at the middle school level, to paint a picture for our young people of a future with hope.
The Jumpstart Savings Program is the first program of its kind, entirely unique to the State of West Virginia. Our aim is to transform lives and empower our blue-collar workforce while rejuvenating many of the sectors that have experienced decline in recent years.
As we partner with businesses to support our skilled tradespeople, our shared goal is for workers to look back over their careers and say: They believed in me. They invested in me. They set firm my foundation.
The Jumpstart Savings Program is a program of the West Virginia State Treasurer’s Office. To learn more, visit wvjumpstart.com. Questions regarding the program can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-340-5055.
Andrea Herrick is the Director of the Jumpstart Savings Program at the West Virginia State Treasurer’s Office.