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Industry leaders assist in promoting career opportunities for students

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Va. - A new program is exposing potential careers to students younger than ever in southwest Virginia. Program sponsors say they need more funding and support to take it to the next step.

The Ignite program gets southwest Virginia students at an early age exploring potential careers.

"Middle school is where the Virginia Department of Education requires them to have a written career plan. Middle school is where they start to plan academically for high school and if they're going to go to higher education or credentially to get the job they want," United Way of Southwest Virginia CEO Travis Staton said.

With its Ignite program, the United Way is investing in students at more than 80 schools. Over the last couple of days, it has been reinforced with a big career expo and calling in industry and government leaders to take the program to the next step.

Southwest Virginia Delegate Israel O'Quinn said, "This is a huge deal to be able to bridge that disconnect and make sure that people are aware of the opportunities that already exist, along with future opportunities that may come our way."

United Way is investing $250,000 into the program this year. They are hoping it will lead to student on-the-job apprenticeships, but that will require new funding and new partners.

"I think custom training and recruitment is something that Virginia needs to do that we're not focused on as much right now. We've got a lot of great strength in Virginia, but there's some things we can do better," Virginia Economic Development Partnership President/CEO Steve Moret said.

Business leaders say this is an investment that gives back as tomorrow's workforce.

Staton said, "It is a multi-sector approach, but also a public-private partnership. It will really require large sums of investment, but also have one of the most valuable returns on investment."

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