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Simulated Workplace: Impacting West Virginia's Economy, One CTE Classroom At a Time.

While American businesses struggle to find high-skilled workers for critical job openings, teens and young adults often enter the workforce lacking the skills, attitudes, motivation and education for personal or professional success. Thus, high-paying jobs across the country remain unfilled because of low skill levels in the incumbent workforce (Crotty, 2015). But, for the first time, a perfect storm is brewing that may solve the dilemma. Career and technical education (CTE) is gaining popularity in public education while simultaneously rising to the forefront of business and industry. The focus on, and the advancement of CTE will make a dramatic impact on Americas critical need for high-quality, high-skilled employees.

It is with utmost urgency that education provide both the academic and technical skill sets as well as the employability skills necessary to set the foundation for a competitive workforce. West Virginia is addressing this need in a unique way with the Simulated Workplace Initiative. The WV Department of Education (WVDE), in collaboration with local and state businesses, developed powerful learning environments that maximize students' learning experiences by transforming the traditional classroom into student-led simulated workplace companies.

Students enrolled in simulated workplace companies master high-level academic and technical skills by participating in authentic projects embracing real-world business processes and expectations. It is engaging and exciting, but more importantly, it empowers students. The company environment provides each student an opportunity to achieve not only stackable technical skill sets but allows them to develop the skills necessary to be successful in any workplace: leadership, communication, team building, critical thinking, problem-solving, positive work ethic, accountability and an understanding of the value of quality work.

Simulated Workplace

Simulated Workplace is a West Virginia initiative that originated in 2012. The West Virginia Department of Education spent the first year of development working with a committee of experts from various industries, businesses and education sectors throughout the state to create the design for the Simulated Workplace environment. The yearlong collaboration resulted in the identification of protocols and business processes aligned to real-world working environments as the framework for Simulated Workplace. In 2013, WVDE worked directly with six schools to pilot and perfect Simulated Workplace. Seeing early success with the six pilots, an additional 30 schools were added in 2014, after which feedback was garnered from educators, students and businesses. Supplementary refinements were made again in 2015, as the initiative had grown to 80 participating schools. Instructor and student feedback became vitally important as best practices began to emerge and the excitement around Simulated Workplace gained momentum. In 2016, Simulated Workplace was effected in state policy, transforming all CTE classrooms into student-led simulated companies using 12 distinct protocols; these protocols are an essential piece of the Simulated Workplace environment, and ensure consistency, quality and mea-sureable outcomes of simulated companies statewide. Implementation of Simulated Workplace must encompass:

1. Student-led company with organizational charts and assigned roles within the company

2. Application/interview process to join the company

3. Formal attendance system that mimics industry-related company

4. Random drug testing

5. 5S Quality Control

6. Safe work areas

7. Workplace teams

8. Project-based learning/project management

9. Student-developed company policy and procedures

10. Company meetings

11. On-site business reviews

12. Accountability utilizing data review, reporting, portfolios and technical assessments ("Simulated workplace," n.d.)

Today, CTE programs in 130 secondary schools in the state have transformed into Simulated Workplace companies. It is the way CTE does "business" in West Virginia. Within 130 schools, more than 1,200 student-led companies employ more than 24,000 student participants. These companies embrace the expectations of business and industry while focusing on the academic and technical skill sets needed for future success. It is important to note that Simulated Workplace is not a curriculum. It is an environment that transforms the culture of CTE and empowers the student to create and define their educational experiences.

Other states, plus Australia, have sent personnel for on-site visits to West Virginia Simulated Workplace companies and are now using the model to develop their own programs.

Early outcomes being reported include increased participation in CTE; increased attendance rates; high passage rates of drug screening; the use of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) project-based learning models; increased participation from business/industry; and most significantly, an increase in students' safety awareness.

As an integral part of this initiative, West Virginia piloted the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) assessments in six simulated workplace sites in fall 2017. NOCTI technical assessments are industry-recognized skill-based measurements of specific program technical skills developed and vetted by industry and educational experts across the United States. The program-specific NOCTI assessments were administered online and most students scored above the workforce entry levels established by industry experts. All Simulated Workplace companies are scheduled to participate in NOCTI technical assessments in spring 2018. Students who successfully complete their program-specific assessments will earn a NOCTI Workforce Competency Credential, which illustrates to business and industry how students are gaining the employability skills needed, and also the technical skills necessary for tomorrow's workforce.

West Virginia's business community continue to play a major role in the education process. They act as inspectors, reviewing and rating each company with pre-developed criteria, similar to a health inspector's review of a restaurant They evaluate skill sets being taught, evaluate the company's equipment, interview CTE instructors and students, and review the company's performance data, attendance, industry credentials earned and safety policies. After the visit, they present the company with an overall rating which includes commendations and recommendations. The inspection benefits both Simulated Workplace companies and industry; education receives the needed feedback for continuous improvement and quality, while businesses develop firsthand knowledge of prospective employees' experience and training and a venue to ensure that the technical skill sets they need are being taught.

In a recent statewide Simulated Workplace student survey conducted by the United States Department of Education-sponsored Rural Education Laboratory (REL), 93 percent of students reported seeing connections between what they learn and what they need to know for a job (Holian & Cunningham, 2017). When a senior student from the Mid-Ohio Valley Technical Institute was asked, "Do you understand what the Simulated Workplace is trying to do?" The student responded, "Oh, yes, you are not just preparing us for the next four years; you are preparing us for the next 40 years."

CTE Real-world Work Experiences

Simulated Workplace not only changed the traditional school environment, but the student-led simulated workplace company projects are leveraging state CTE funding to affect the West Virginia economy in a positive manner.

Tiny Homes

In June 2016, West Virginia encountered one of the state's worst natural disasters. Events like this only happen once every thousand years (Stanglin & Rice, 2016). A horrific flood devastated numerous families and businesses throughout central and southern West Virginia, leaving many homeless. When students returned to school in the fall, the plight of the flood victims--themselves, friends, family, neighbors--weighed heavily on their minds. Within the simulated workplace company meetings, students discussed ideas about how to assist in the flood cleanup efforts within their local communities and beyond.

From these conversations, WVDE developed and presented the "Big Hearts, Give Tiny Homes" idea to student leadership groups; twelve schools stepped forward and agreed to construct 15 tiny homes, complete with furnishings and everyday essentials. They challenged themselves to have the homes ready for Christmas delivery, which was only seven weeks away. (Typical tiny homes take six months to construct, however, the simulated company leaders felt they could do it in six weeks). Collaboration took on a new meaning for students at companies that span welding, plumbing, construction, drafting, nursing, electrical and culinary disciplines. Together they worked to design, construct, furnish and supply each tiny home by the Christmas deadline.

Collaborative efforts extended beyond the schools, as the West Virginia National Guard joined in the project to support the students' efforts. The Guard transported all 15 tiny homes to the Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia, and on December 20,2016, former Governor Earl Ray Tomlin presented 15 homeless families with the keys to their brand new tiny homes. Not only were humanitarian needs of the state addressed through the tiny home project, but this historic educational endeavor showcased how state education dollars can be leveraged to address economic needs.

A senior student at James Rumsey Technical Institute summarized the "Big Hearts, Give Tiny Homes" project with his statement: "Simulated Workplace is an amazing experience. I love working hands-on with my colleagues and getting to experiment through the tiny home project. I would love to come back and do it over again!"

The students took devastation and created a solution; they have a memory that cannot be measured in traditional education assessments, but can be illustrated through student pride and satisfaction with the outcomes and the civic impact of the CTE tiny homes initiative in West Virginia ("James Rumsey," 2017).

Student-led Economic Summit

This transformation of traditional CTE has empowered students and given them a voice for change. In his 2017 state-of-the-state address, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice commented on West Virginias national economic ranking among states: The situation was unacceptable and needed to change (Justice, 2017), after which student leaders began to voice their opinions and raised questions about the economy during their company meetings. They needed an outlet for their ideas.

In April 2017, the Simulated Workplace student economic development taskforce was created. The first summit was held in Charleston, West Virginia, at the Capitol Complex with 50 students representing various schools and programs across the state. The mission of the summit was to provide a venue for students, first, to clearly understand the positive and negative assets of West Virginia's economy and, secondly, to develop ideas to build upon the positive assets and to create solutions that address the negative. After, company leaders were challenged to meet and talk with their local business leaders and economic development authorities to gain an understanding of the needs in their respective communities-and to present their findings at the second summit meeting held in September 2017.

The September summit focused on vetting and honing their individual ideas. By the end of the two days the goal was to have developed a framework for the undertaking of a potential economic project. More than 30 ideas were discussed during the summit and students began work to further develop their project of choice. Over the next six weeks, the respective teams (which could include students from different schools) collaborated via Skype, email and various media.

The students returned to Charleston in October for a two-day follow-up meeting. On the first day, students met with members of the business community selected to be mentors for the various project teams. The mentors' role was to ask guiding questions to ensure key components of their proposed projects were being addressed. On the second day, 30 projects were narrowed to five that would be further developed and presented to the Governor:

* Restoration of Properties

* Tiny Homes for Tourism

* Smart/Medical Homes Technology

* Theme Park Development

* Agricultural Impact.

The process has been a long, arduous journey for students, but according to one student from Spring Valley High School, "My Simulated Workplace experience is the most rewarding one I've had in my high school career!"

Just last month, in March 2018, the five student-led teams and business mentors from across West Virginia met to further refine the projects for presentation to the Governor and the Secretary of Commerce in May 2018.


Simulated Workplace is making a significant difference in improving the educational and economic environments of West Virginia. It is creating sustainable education change in the state, as 92 percent of students feel their critical thinking skills have improved as a result of participating in Simulated Workplace (Hamrick, 2017); economically, the skills sets and credentials acquired by the emerging workforce give hope and direction to West Virginia's youth, as 86 percent of students earned an industry certification in their CTE program of study (Holian & Cunningham, 2017).

Reaching students at a critical point in their education, when they begin making decisions in regard to future career plans, is very relevant to West Virginia's economic growth. Supporting them through the development, pursuance and achievement of their future career plans will potentially lead to a higher quality workforce, not only in West Virginia, but on a national scale.

Simulated Workplace is transforming the lives of West Virginia's CTE students and is spurring systemic social and economic development throughout the state. It is important that West Virginia's emerging workforce, its youth, have the opportunity to reach their individual potential and to have a voice in creating their future. A senior student from the Fayette Institute of Technology gave a great summary of the initiative, "Simulated Workplace turns okay students into great students, and great students into leaders.


Crotty, J. M. (2015). How to solve America's low-skills crisis. Forbes. Retrieved from

Hamrick, K. (2017). WV CTE Simulated Workplace Survey. Charleston, WV: Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center.

Holian, L, & Cunningham, B. (2017). The Student Experience: West Virginia's Simulated Workplace. Arlington, VA: Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia.

Justice, J. (2017, February 8). West Virginia State of the State Address [Television broadcast]. Retrieved from ice-del ivers-west-vir-ginia-state-state-address.

Stanglin, D., & Rice, D. (2016). At least 26 dead as historic floods sweep West Virginia. USA Today. Retrieved from

West Virginia Department of Education. (2017). James Rumsey Technical Institute receives national humanitarian award [Press release]. Retrieved from

West Virginia Department of Education, (n.d.). Simulated workplace resource guide. Retrieved from

By Kathy J. D'Antoni & Clinton Burch

Kathy D'Antoni, Ed.D., is associate state superintendent of schools for the division of technical, adult and institutional education at the West Virginia Department of Education. D'Antoni has worked extensively with curriculum alignment and development projects including the national and international Simulated Workplace initiative. She is the past president of the National Association for Tech Prep Leaders and sat on the national League of Innovation Sail Board. Email her at

Clinton Burch is the executive director in the division of technical education and governor's economic initiatives for the West Virginia Department of Education. Prior to coming to the WVDE, Clinton served as assistant superintendent of Wayne County Schools, as well as CTE director of the Spring Valley Career Technical Education Center. Email him at
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Author:D'Antoni, Kathy J.; Burch, Clinton
Date:Apr 1, 2018
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