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Employers look beyond specific skills in filling new jobs


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — If there are two things West Virginia employers are looking for in prospective employees, they are the ability to solve problems and the ability to work in teams.

Communication and math skills are important, too, but those soft skills can make the difference in whether a person gets a job.

“I have turned away very, very, very talented filmmakers because they didn’t want to play on a team,” said Diana Sole Walko, CEO of MotionMasters, a video production and original programming company based in Dunbar.

Walko was one of four panelists offering their views on career readiness at the annual Education Summit held recently in Charleston.

Chris Beam, president and chief operating officer of Appalachian Power, said his company expects to have 40 percent employee turnover in the next five years because of retirements. Appalachian Power is working to identify the skill sets its new employees will need and how it will fill the open positions, he said.

Appalachian Power hires to fill a number of positions many people might not think about, Beam said. It needs meteorologists, nurses and physicians on its staff, along with engineers.

“We’re going through a very large cultural shift in our company,” he said, adding that Appalachian Power needs people who work in a team-based environment.

Ryan Moore, human resources department leader for the Procter & Gamble plant being built in Martinsburg, said his company hasn’t hired anyone straight out of high school yet.

What it looks for in new hires is attitude and aptitude, he said.

“I can’t train those two things,” he said.

Matt Oliver, assistant human resources manager for Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia in Putnam County, said Toyota hires 10 to 15 people a month. Toyota is committed to diversity, but diversity is an advantage only if diverse people can work on a team, he said.

“We’re looking for people who can solve problems that aren’t there” because of Toyota’s focus on continuous improvement, he said. Some of the company’s best employees are people who grew up on farms because they have had to improvise and solve problems with the resources at hand, he said.

Oliver said Toyota has pipelines to supply it with engineers and production workers, but it struggles to find people for its skilled maintenance teams. It has had to go outside the state to hire for those positions, he said.

“We’re not getting the people we need for our skilled maintenance team, so we have to make them,” he said.

To fill those jobs in state, Toyota has started a program that combines getting a job and classroom training. Skilled maintenance work sometimes requires hooking a laptop to a machine and running diagnostics. What knocks people out of the program is lack of math skills, Oliver said.

Walko said extracurricular activities in school teach nonacademic skills that are needed in the workplace. Young people should network and find mentors. That requires students to take the initiative, which is what MotionMasters looks for, she said.

When MotionMasters began, the technology for producing videos was completely different from what it is now, so schools should prepare students to adapt to change, Walko said.

“Prepare them, please, to be lifelong learners, because what we do changes all the time,” she said.

Several panelists said Millenials do have an advantage over older workers in that they come to a job more likely to be able to solve problems that come their way.

“When we do have a problem at work, they are staying with it until the problem is solved,” Oliver said. “The younger work force we’re getting now is more resilient when it comes to problem solving.”

Staff Writer Jim Ross can be reached at 304-395-3483 or email at [email protected]

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