This article was originally published as part of the Grow PA solutions journalism project, published by and underwritten in part by The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.

The Appalachia Partnership Initiative wants to support STEM workers across the Rust Belt. “We have to help coal miners figure out what their transferable skills are. They may actually be suited for high-demand jobs and not know it.”

When Chevron started operations in southwestern Pennsylvania a few years ago, the company noticed a familiar disconnect between workforce and available jobs.

“We had our social investment leaders come in from other parts of the country to find out what the issues and needs are here,” said Mary Murrin, the social investment team lead at Chevron Appalachia. “We spent about 18 months to two years listening to people and meeting with people.”

What they discovered, in addition to skills gaps in the training pipeline, was a lack of understanding of what exactly STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers entailed.

“The big takeaway was that the perception among parents, educators and business leaders was that STEM careers were only for kids going to four-year colleges,” she said.

The company realized more people needed to make the connections between STEM fields and available opportunities.

“We wanted to look at what kind of retraining might be needed for displaced coal miners, so they could use the skills they already have in a productive way. We’re looking at how we can give residents of these rural communities options to stay here, and figure out where the best family-sustaining wages are,” said Murrin. “We needed to help build that relationship between STEM and the workforce across rural communities.”

To that end, Chevron and Pittsburgh-based Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation have awarded $196,200 in Innovation Grants to 43 southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia school districts.

In Washington County, a dozen school districts received a total of about $54,000 for a slew of projects, including