NICHOLAS COUNTY, WV (WOWK) – West Virginia is launching new a hospitality and tourism education program across the state to help build a workforce for the state’s growing tourism industry.

According to the governor’s office and the West Virginia Department of Tourism, officials are projecting a growth in the tourism industry that would lead to more than 21,000 annual job openings through 2025. Justice says these new education programs will help prepare West Virginia students to enter the tourism workforce.

The governor and Department of Tourism officials spoke with students at the Nicholas County Career and Technical Center about those jobs and the Tourism Works initiative launched earlier this year. The initiative is designed to help the state prepare for the projected tourism growth.

“We’re going to start teaching and training our students to be prepared for the jobs that are on the way, and this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Justice says. “We’ve got tourism jumpstarted like you can’t even imagine. We might go from 21,000 to 210,000 job openings in the blink of an eye. West Virginia is the most special place on the planet. We are absolutely the diamond in the rough the world has missed. Keep it going.”

According to the governor’s office, the jobs projected to become available in the tourism industry will be “good-paying.” Officials say data from the Higher Education Policy Commission shows approximately 10,000 of those annual openings are expected to be management-level positions with salaries nearing $60,000.

The Tourism Works initiative is made up of multiple initiatives that have been designed to support the tourism industry’s workforce as it grows. The governor’s office says the focus for Tuesday’s visit to the Nicholas County CTC was the “Shape Our Future” initiative, which focuses on the launch and expansion of hospitality and tourism education across the state as well as engaging all 55 counties to update tourism and hospitality curriculum, including the expected launch of a specialization in tourism marketing this coming fall at schools who have signed up for it.

According to Justice’s office, the “Shape Our Future” initiative also focuses on highlighting tourism as a career path to middle school students. The program also creates a working partnership between the departments of Education and Tourism to connect industry representatives with schools. The governor’s office says this includes creating a tourism pathway program to allow students to earn college credits and career certification programs while still at the high school level.

Justice’s office also says the two departments are currently accepting applications from schools to receive the Tourism EPIC grants that will be awarded to provide funding for students to create tourism infrastructure projects.

The experiences our career technical students are gaining from this partnership and others like it are invaluable,” State Superintendent of Schools David L. Roach said. “The skills that the Nicholas County CTC students acquire as part of this project are second-to-none.”

According to the governor’s office, the tourism industry brought in a record amount of $5 billion in visitor spending last year along with nearly $300 million in recent private tourism investment and tourism tax credit applications.