HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Bobbi Lewis believes there is a big difference between a job and a career.

"Most people have to work a job, but when you get to go to work doing something you love, then to me that's a career," she said.

Lewis, 24, of Gallipolis Ferry, was one of eight women from the Tri-State to complete a one-of-a-kind program preparing women for a career in manufacturing.

"I have already interviewed and I am very excited about my future now," Lewis said.

The Step Up for Women Advanced Manufacturing Pre-Apprenticeship Program honored Lewis and the other seven graduates Friday, Aug. 24 during a ceremony at the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) in Huntington. Step Up for Women is a partnership between West Virginia Women Work and Apprenticeship Works, the National Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship Partnership at RCBI.

Melinda Perron, program coordinator for West Virginia Women Works at RCBI, says the 10-week program attracts women from all backgrounds.

"I have women who have master's degrees, women who are single mothers and women just coming out of high school," she said. "It's a really broad range of women that take these classes."

Perron said participants receive free tuition and travel reimbursements as well as industrial work clothes and boots. She says the accelerated program trains women for entry-level manufacturing careers.

"We teach them skills to succeed as machinists or in related industrial occupations and includes operation of manual and computer-controlled mills and lathes," Perron explained. "Other core classes cover blueprint reading, precision measurement and inspection, OSHA safety as well as general employment skills."

In addition to Lewis, the summer 2018 graduates are Alexis Baskowsky, Crystal Kay, Peggy Lawson, Meghan Hackney, Jenka Lockwood and Kissy Young, all of Huntington; and Tamika Summerfield of Alum Creek.

"We're proud that our unique approach attracts more women to manufacturing, which is necessary if we're to bridge the critical skills gap in this American industrial sector," said Charlotte Weber, RCBI director and CEO. "Step Up for Women empowers graduates, leading to good-paying jobs with benefits and rewarding careers."

Believed to be the first of its kind in the United States, Step Up program serves as a model for other pre-apprenticeship programs across the country that aim to bring more women into manufacturing, according to Weber. Step Up for Women is made possible through the U.S. Department of Labor's American Apprenticeship Initiative, she said.

"As a result of its success at RCBI Huntington, the Step Up program expanded to RCBI Bridgeport in December 2017," Weber said.

Any women wanting to take the program in the future are urged to get enrollment information by calling Perron at 304-528-9991 or go online to www.wvwomenwork.org/stepupamp.

Step Up for Women is made possible through the U.S. Department of Labor's American Apprenticeship Initiative.

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Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com