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OP-ED: Building a strong, healthy workforce for West Virginia


West Virginia employers need a strong, healthy workforce. It is a need exasperated by declining workforce participation, retiring baby boomers, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The opioid epidemic has also significantly impacted employers’ ability to recruit and retain a productive workforce.

West Virginia employers express their greatest need is for workers. They need a dependable, trustworthy workforce with the strong work ethic West Virginians are known for. Yet, throughout the state, employers search for innovative and practical approaches that will yield a skilled, healthy workforce.

Despite the challenges employers face, West Virginia is making great strides to strengthen economic resilience and build a strong workforce. Last year, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and Marshall Health / Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine joined forces to launch a new toolkit to assist employers in preventing and responding to substance misuse in the workplace.

Leveraging the expertise of the West Virginia Chamber and Marshall Health’s Creating Opportunities for Recovery Employment (CORE) initiative, the organizations united under a common goal to provide solutions to employers.

“Building a Drug-Responsible Workplace” toolkit is a blueprint for West Virginia employers. It serves as a guide that answers common questions employers have about hiring individuals in recovery. As an easy-to-use resource, employers can select modules and download resources based on the needs of the organization. The toolkit is a no-cost training and educational approach designed to assist organizations in educating staff and making policy decisions. Leadership teams, hiring managers, and human resources representatives may use the toolkit to provide ongoing training and supports to staff in establishing a recovery-supportive workplace.

Accessible on the West Virginia Chamber’s website, the toolkit features six modules providing employers with the tools to establish and maintain drug-free workplaces. The toolkit addresses issues faced by employers and provides necessary responses to strengthen workplace policies and operations, including:

  • Lessons to help employers understand addiction as a disease and its impact on business./li>
  • Legal and operational issues an employers must consider in building and refining a drug-free workplace. 
  • Recommendations for crafting and operationalizing a drug-free workplace policy.
  • How to respond to an employees’ harmful use of substances.
  • Elements of a recovery-supportive workplace.


The employer and employee relationship function best in partnership with one another. The toolkit serves as one essential tool to ensuring a healthy workplace for all employees. Using the toolkit, employers navigate the components of an effective drug-free workplace policy that includes a written drug-free workplace policy, employee education, supervisory training, employee assistance programs, and drug testing. As drug-free workplace programs are refined, employers establish a safe and healthy workplace and reduce the cost related to substance misuse accidents.

Employees also serve a key role in the partnership with employers as an integral component to the success of the business. Individuals in recovery with substance use disorder thrive in work environments when their skills and work experience are coupled with the “right” job opportunity. Given opportunity and a recovery-supportive workplace, employees in recovery are loyal and possess a strong desire to showcase their existing skills and seek to learn new ones.

Armed with the knowledge and resources within the toolkit, employers can successfully hire and retain skilled workers within the recovery community. Individuals in recovery bring with them a wide variety of skills and experiences. In fact, there are a number of thriving West Virginia businesses already implementing these best practices. Employers often say their employees in recovery possess the grit, drive, and determination to thrive within the workplace while demonstrating reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. Opportunity and a recovery-supportive workplace are the fundamental componets to not only hiring individuals in recovery, but also retaining a strong workforce.

The time is now to make a worthwhile investment in your organization’s future by focusing on your most valuable asset—your people. Use this toolkit to strengthen your organization’s ability to respond to challenging times and work to create a ready, safe workforce, where individuals in recovery can grow, thrive and contribute to West Virginia’s economic resilience.

AUTHORS:  Steve Roberts is president of the WV Chamber of Commerce.  Ashley Shaw is the director of the Creating Opportunities for Recovery Employment (CORE) initiative at Marshall Health. 


Op-Ed published by WVNews


Read the Op-Ed Here

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