POWHATAN – Workforce needs are continually changing, which means the people who are preparing today’s young people for future careers also need to be constantly adapting.
Powhatan Economic Development recently teamed up with Powhatan High School to help create a pipeline for local businesses and the future local workforce by discussing the current skills they are looking for in job applicants.
Several career and technical education (CTE) program teachers participated in a tour of five Powhatan companies on Monday, Aug. 19 designed to connect the local businesses to those CTE courses and allow them to understand what the companies are currently looking for when hiring, said Roxanne Salerno, economic development program manager.
“I think it went really well. The teachers seemed to be extremely impressed by the businesses. The information coming out of it for workforce was really valuable and validated some of the skills they were teaching in their classes,” she said.
Over several hours, the educators had the chance to tour five businesses: Rapid Manufacturing, WeightPack Inc., Chadwick and Son Orchids, Envestnet (formerly Pie Tech), and The Mill at Fine Creek and Fine Creek Brewing.
Representatives at each business gave the teachers a tour of the facility, an overview of their operations, and what they are looking for in an employee.
“It is good for those teachers to know those things and what skills are more needed than others and also what types of jobs are available directly out of high school with the CTE certificates,” Salerno said. “It is creating a good pipeline for those students to be connected with the local businesses.”
For economic development purposes, she is also hoping to foster relationships for a local source of workforce, she added.
“If our businesses are not having to look outside the county and are hiring locally, that is a goal. And if they can directly source from the high school the positions they need, that is an even better goal,” she said.
Teresa Whitlock, CFO of Weightpack Inc., said she definitely found it worth her time to connect with local educators and share the base skill sets that are utilized at Weightpack. She hopes it will help align the training students get through the trade programs with the skills that are needed in the workplace.
One of the points Whitlock said she emphasized strongly was how important math, writing, and communications skills are in a potential employee. Sometimes students studying a trade feel they don’t have to put as much emphasis on their traditional subjects, but that mindset would be a hindrance for them, she said.
“Most of our staff here deals with customers, either as a technician face-to-face or making parts for them. And with being an international company, we utilize metric and standard, so being able to convert between them is huge for us,” she said.
She added that whether a young person is seeking a job in Powhatan or somewhere else, if they understand math and English skills are critical and can discuss that in a job interview, that “already puts them above other people because they recognize that fact.”
The potential benefit to her company or other local businesses in making a connection like this is access to a larger pool of employees, Whitlock said. With unemployment rates low and Powhatan’s situation as a rural county, some people don’t want to make the drive here for an entry-level job.
“That potential pool obviously wouldn’t just be for us. It would be for other small businesses in the community. A lot of small businesses, when they go to hire someone, a lot of it is word of mouth or in the Powhatan Today. You don’t necessarily have a large pool or invest a lot of money to hire an entry-level position,” she said.
Those from the school district who participated were Dr. Jason Tibbs, director of facilities and career and technical education; Nicole Arnold, PHS assistant principal; Mark Robertson, culinary arts instructor; Robert Benway, engineering instructor; Jane Brown, family and consumer sciences instructor, and Carroll Gillispie, welding and small engine instructor.
Brown will be teaching the CTE program’s newest offering, a hospitality and tourism course. She loved the tour, saying it was exciting to see the business opportunities and growth that have happened in Powhatan that could benefit PHS graduates.
All of the educators who attended the tour walked away with good information and even better connections, Brown said. The stop that was the most relevant to her future students was the Mill at Fine Creek because of the various hospitality and tourism related businesses located there. She already hopes to work with the local business to set up a field trip there with her students.
“It was really eye-opening for all of us. Being educators, we know what we are teaching the kids and we are trying to align our competencies in our very different areas with what the needs of localities are,” Brown said.
She appreciated that the local business were not only willing to discuss possibilities such as internships or apprenticeships in terms of placement but also offering to come and do demonstrations and talks to some of the relevant classes for their fields.
“Roxanne had said that the businesses she talks to on a daily basis ask, ‘What does the school system have? How can we partner with them? How can we get kids interested in what we are doing so we can bring them on and have them as potential employees?’ So, it is a win-win for our community for the education system and business and industry to partner together,” Brown said.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.