In 2010, there were fewer than five craft beer breweries in West Virginia.
But by 2019, that number had exploded to 28 craft breweries – not counting cideries, wineries or distilleries – with a collective economic impact of $289 million in the Mountain State, according to the American Brewers Association. Together, the beverage industry is ranked 10th in economic impact among sectors. And, it is the Mountain State’s second fastest growing manufacturing field, proving that West Virginia is diverse in its economic growth successes.
In 2020, this recession-proof industry has continued to expand and with it a new and direct pipeline of Apprenticeship so people interested in working in West Virginia’s swiftly growing manufacturing sector can do so without leaving the state, allowing residents the knowledge they need to be a vital part of the industry.
The West Virginia Department of Economic Development’s Apprenticeship in Motion (AIM WV) program has teamed up with the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship and Bridge Valley Community and Technical College to establish one of only a handful of U.S. DOL-registered Brewers Apprenticeship programs in the country.
Loosely utilizing the framework of a 2016 apprenticeship originally built by the Iowa Brewers Guild, US DOL Apprenticeship reps have built a new apprenticeship in WV collaborating with Apprenticeship sponsor Bridge Valley, where chemistry professor Michael Parsons launched a two-year Brew Tech associate degree program in the fall semester of 2020. Those classes teach a valuable Swiss-Army knife of diverse and essential skills including not only brew chemistry, production and sanitation, but also business, marketing, sales and environmental sustainability.
While brew students once had to get industry-trained at expensive programs in far-away states such as Vermont or Colorado, this homegrown program will pipeline a generation of fresh, cross-trained apprentices to good-paying jobs and careers in West Virginia’s burgeoning beverage industry.
Breweries can also sign up existing employees who want to sharpen and broaden their skillsets and/or can also teach new employees from the ground up through the proven, flexible and repeatable brewery-molded training process of Apprenticeship that turns companies into talent producers and not just talent consumers.
To stand up book-ends of funding apprenticeships, the West Virginia Department of Economic Development’s AIM WV program team helps breweries tap state resources and workforce training funds to off-set some apprentice training costs while Bridge Valley students can also qualify for a Learn and Earn, which pays half of an apprentice’s wages while they are working with a brewery.
While the first semester of the Bridge Valley course is just about in the books, enrollment is now open for the spring semester which begins in January.
Already, one of the students, Samantha Fox, is diving in and will be the West Virginia’s first U.S. DOL-registered Brewer’s Apprentice at Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company gaining invaluable on the job training from head brewer Brian Reymiller and other GVBC staff.
Apprenticeship makes a brewery stronger, now and during scale-up with invaluable, freshly cross-trained employees who can earn the one-year US DOL transferrable federal certificate or license for brewer, as well as earning a college degree. In doing so, apprentices will have traveled a direct, deliberate, and collaboratively planned educational and industry pipeline to an exciting career in a growing field and may someday start their own brewery right here in West Virginia.
If you’re interested in the exciting, fast growing field of craft brewing or are a brewery wanting to learn more about the Brewers Apprenticeship program, call West Virginia Department of Economic Development’s AIM WV coordinator Dave Lavender at 304-932-2045 or email at David.L.Lavender@wv.gov.