DUNBAR, W.Va. — High school students in Kanawha County are receiving some recognition as they get a head start entering the workforce.

The Ben Franklin Career Center in Dunbar was host to its second annual #I Am Going To Work signing day Thursday for students who completed various programs and were hired on with different companies across multiple industries.

Ben Franklin Assistant Principal Nicole McCartney said these students deserve to be acknowledged.

“It’s a great event, we recognize students a lot of times for college and for military, but I feel like this is a kept secret, and we need to recognize these students for going to work,” McCartney said.

She said Ben Franklin offers about 17 high school programs that gives students the opportunity to acquire a career directly following their high school graduation. McCartney said they also offer six post-secondary programs where students will return to Ben Franklin after they graduate to complete the program.

Some of the programs offered at Ben Franklin include Animal Systems, Automotive Technology, Coding App and Game Design, Early Childhood Classroom Assistant Teacher, Law and Public Safety, Manufacturing, Medical Assisting, Pre-Nursing, and Welding.

McCartney said the programs offered at Ben Franklin are beneficial for every student as it gives them lots of options while they figure out their futures.

“It’s a good stepping stone, it’s an exploratory time,” McCartney said. “Kids need to be able to come to CT centers and decide, ‘is this for me, is this a skill that I am going to be good at, is this something that I want to do.”

Ben Franklin student Brooke Shaw is a graduate of the Honors Medical Assisting program. She was one of the few dozen students being recognized Thursday.

Shaw got an opportunity to go to work for WVU Medicine Thomas Hospitals. She said the program was an experience she can truly be proud of.

“It’s a really great experience, I’ve been in here for two years and I’ve made a lot of great friendships and it’s really great to see them graduating with me,” Shaw said. “We’ve learned a lot about the Medical Assisting program, how great the healthcare field is, and how many options there are.”

She said tuition is free and she recommends every area high schooler to enroll at Ben Franklin as it’s a way to help them explore all of their options.

Shaw cautioned, however, that it’s sometimes not an easy path to navigate, and one that takes a lot of hard work and dedication.

“We’ve all debated a lot of times if we wanted to finish, and we’ve taken a lot of tests, and it has been a hard, bumpy ride, but we made it, and we can finally say that we finished,” said Shaw.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, 55% of young people ages 16 to 24 were employed in the U.S. as of July 2023. It’s still remains below the previous level of 56% of young people who were employed prior to the Covid-19 Pandemic in 2019.

McCartney said it’s always exciting to see more young people entering the workforce in the state and making the choice to stay and make West Virginia the place they work and live.

“It’s probably one of my favorite events so far that we’ve created here at the school, and it’s an exciting time, because I think it’s something that we miss sometimes,” said McCartney. “Like I said, we recognize our college, our military students, but we don’t always recognize our students that are going to work, and that’s important, that’s our workforce, that’s where we are as a state, so we need to recognize that.”

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act said that 34% of young people in West Virginia currently make up the state’s workforce.