The job market continues to become a complicated, competitive place. From the widening skills gap to the rise of automation and newer digital technologies, many jobs will go unfilled in the coming years.
The challenges with finding skilled workers are compounded in places with populations who mainly reside in rural areas or where local industries aren’t what they once were. Such is the case for West Virginia, where the state as of 2019 has a 5.2% unemployment rate, over 23% higher than the national unemployment rate and higher than all of the surrounding states.
There are many explanations for why this is happening. However, this doesn’t always have to be the reality for residents of the Mountain State.
In fact, West Virginians have a multitude of fulfilling and rewarding jobs at their fingertips; they just need to know where to look. Check out this list of the biggest career opportunities available in West Virginia by job title and specific industries.
Exciting West Virginia Careers
With new industries and technology emerging all the time, the present is an exciting time for West Virginians eager to find a new career. In this section, here are a handful of specific jobs that are in high demand here in the state.
A physician assistant (PA) is a state-licensed healthcare professional who practices medicine with physician collaboration. PAs can perform an extensive range of medical services from entry-level primary care to highly technical specialty procedures in nearly every medical and surgical healthcare setting.
The concept of the physician’s assistant was conceived at the Duke University Medical Center in 1965 due to a shortage of primary care physicians in rural areas. Today, there are more than 187 accredited programs across the United States with approximately 86,700 practicing physician assistants.
In West Virginia, physician assistants on average earn between $102,000 to $106,000 annually. Most tend to work out of outpatient care centers and general medical/surgical hospitals. Not only are these jobs in demand in West Virginia, but employment also looks promising in nearby Pennsylvania and Maryland.
To become a physician assistant, a person must graduate from an accredited master’s program. In most cases, a person looking to apply for a physician assistant master’s program already has a bachelor’s degree with experience inpatient care.
So for those who have an interest in finding a rewarding career where they can help patients in need and has a promising outlook in West Virginia, becoming a PA should be at the top of the list.
Substance Abuse Counselor
Fewer states have been as negatively impacted by opioids than West Virginia. The state has served as ground zero of an epidemic known for how it destroys people’s lives. If there was a career pursuit that is both needed and can do much good to help the state recover from the opioid crisis, it’s becoming a substance abuse counselor.
This type of mental health counselor specializes in treating patients who have a chemical dependency on drugs or alcohol. Addiction can be devastating to those who suffer from it and to those they love. What’s worse is that even though the effects of drug addiction are apparent, West Virginia has a severe shortage of licensed psychologists and substance abuse counselors who can help these communities heal.
While challenging, working as a substance abuse counselor can be very fulfilling. Typically, this career path involves attaining a master’s in clinical psychology.
Home Health Aide
A home health aide cares for people who have disabilities, chronic illnesses, cognitive impairments, or age-related problems, who have the need or desire to still live in their own home. The home health aide provides essential services that include administering medications, changing bandages, and checking vital signs like temperature, pulse, and respiration rates.
This career is currently listed as a “demand occupation” in West Virginia with a projected 29% occupational growth between 2014 and 2024.
Healthcare administrators are professionals who manage the business operations of medical organizations such as hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and community health centers. Along with other careers in the healthcare field, this is another exciting job opportunity for West Virginians as many health organizations need educated and experienced workers to make sure they run smoothly.
To get into this line of work, healthcare organizations typically look for candidates who possess a master’s degree in public health, healthcare administration, or an MBA.
Emerging New Industries in West Virginia
While the previous jobs are mainly within the healthcare field, West Virginians have countless other career choices in their home state. Coming up next are several industries that offer tremendous potential for residents of West Virginia.
While the coal industry isn’t the massive source of employment in West Virginia it once was, there are several other areas of opportunity in working for the energy sector sprouting up in the state.
The U.S. has experienced a boom in oil and natural gas production following the development and adoption of new drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology. West Virginia sits right on top of the Marcellus Shale, one of the largest natural gas fields in the world.
With a high demand for workers, many residents with both relevant or little experience should benefit from this massive natural resource deposit.
Also, the state has tremendous potential for green, renewable energy. What was seen as a negative sign of the disappearance of coal mining, some workers have made the transition to working for one of several wind farms in West Virginia. As the desire for renewable energy increases across the U.S., state residents should keep an eye to the future for new career opportunities.
Biotech & Pharmaceuticals
Biotechnology is a broad focus under the umbrella of biology involving living systems and organisms to develop or make products. Organizations in the biotech industry attempt to harness cellular and biomolecular processes to develop technologies and products that help improve our lives and the health of our planet. Since 2012, an industry-wide study on the economic impact of U.S. bioscience industries shows that West Virginia has experienced a growth in bio-related employment.
Additionally, the pharmaceutical industry has grown somewhat in the Mountain State. Employment in drugs and pharmaceuticals in West Virginia is considered to be specialized and is 93% more concentrated in the state economy relative to the national average. Consider that some of the largest multinational pharmaceutical companies in the world operate several locations out of West Virginia such as Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Cardinal Health, and Bayer.
West Virginia may most commonly be associated with images of country roads and pristine mountain views, but it’s easy to forget how the aerospace industry is also part of its past. From notable natives like General Chuck Yeager and Katherine Johnson to the wood used in the Wright brothers’ first flying machines, West Virginia has a rich past in aerospace.
Although the industry is small, it continues to grow with innovation happening all over the state. Right here in the Ohio Valley, Touchstone Research Laboratory developed new uses for coal for the likes of NASA and SpaceX.
A Bright Future for the Mountain State
West Virginia has so much potential that the next few years could be inspiring for job seekers. From healthcare to innovations in technology, state residents have an opportunity to go out and seek the life they want right in their home state.
As a quick recap, below are the eight most exciting new job opportunities for West Virginians now and in the future:
- Physician Assistant
- Substance Abuse Counselor
- Home Health Aide
- Healthcare Administrator
- Oil & Gas, Renewable Energy
- Biotech & Pharma