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Making sure W.Va. is career ready

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Four industry representatives said when looking for new hires, especially recent graduates, they need applicants who not only have the base skills requirements but also have soft skills like being collaborative.

People representing industries located throughout the state spoke to attendees at the West Virginia Education Summit: Education is Everyone’s Business in Charleston last week.

This was the fifth annual summit and it focused on the personalization of learning and necessary policy shifts to ensure West Virginia students are career ready. The event was hosted by The Education Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for a quality public education for all West Virginia children.

“We wanted to bring the business community, education community, policy makers, legislators and community members together in this summit to really talk about the changing needs of our state’s education system and bridge the gap between business and education,” Amelia Courts, president of The Education Alliance, said. “A lot of conferences have an entire education conference where they bring in a business speaker, or they have a business summit and bring in an education speaker. We wanted to bring together both groups to the table for dialogues and innovative discussions.”

One of the panels focused on career readiness. Panelists were Chris Beam, president and COO of Appalachian Power; Matt Oliver, HR assistant manager of Toyota Motor Manufacturing WV Inc.; Ryan Moore, HR department leader of Procter & Gamble; and Diana Sole Walko, CEO of MotionMasters.

All four said they were looking for employees. Oliver said the Buffalo plant is hiring 10-15 employees a month in everything from production to engineering. Moore said Proctor and Gamble is in the hiring phase for its new facility in Martinsburg.

“If you heard nothing else today, you’ve just heard four employers in West Virginia say they’re hiring,” said Sarah Armstrong-Tucker, chancellor for Community and Technical College Education, who served as moderator for the panel.

Tucker asked whether companies had a hard time finding employees who could pass a drug test. Oliver said it is a problem to get a pipeline for the workforce. He said he thinks what would help resolve that is reinforcing from a young age that actions have consequences later in life.

Moore said he had heard before P&G hired its first employee how the company might struggle with finding people. He said it hasn’t been as bad as he was initially advised.

“We were told by our own P&G doctors setting up the medical requirements that 60 to 70 percent of applicants would fail the drug test in our local area,” Moore said. “We have seen less than 10 percent of the 3,000-plus applications we’ve had.”

Beam said this is an issue in all 11 states Appalachian Power covers, adding that the current workforce doesn’t have a large failure percentage ratio. He said he sees about a 2 to 3 percent failure rate across 11 states.

“I don’t know if that’s because they know they are going to be drug tested so we’re getting folks who already know how to pass,” he said. “But there are always surprises. We get people who go through the whole process and then fail the test. We’ve spent time and effort getting from that application all the way to the drug screen. It’s frustrating. Lo and behold, we find the premier candidate now is no longer available because of substance abuse.”

All four panelists discussed what they would like to see in applicants. Many of them said they want employees to be not only drug free and have the base skills for the position, but they also want them to have good communication skills.

One of the qualities they mentioned was being collaborative. Beam said he is looking for engineers, but all skill sets and being collaborative is one of the main skills he wants applicants to have.

“We are going through a cultural shift in the company. Everything is a team based environment,” he said. “We need students who can focus in that environment and people who can interact in that atmosphere. … They have to have the ability to work with other people.”

Moore agreed, saying he also is looking for people with an engineering background and also seeks people who can be collaborative.

“You need to have the right attitude and the right aptitude,” he said. “We can train with everything else.”

Walko also talked about the need for people with soft skills and working in a team at her company, MotionMasters, a corporate video production and design studio located in Charleston.

“We have turned away very, very talented young people because they didn’t know how to play on a team,” she said. “They wanted to be the ones who wanted to do it all and couldn’t collaborate with other members of the team.”

Oliver said Toyota focuses on innovation and continuous improvement, which is why he seeks applicants who look for problems and ways to make the process better.

“We are looking for people who can solve problems that are not there,” Oliver said. “You may have a process that is working great. It’s efficient but what are you doing to make that process better every day? We are after people who we know will critique that process and make it better every day.”

Tucker asked representatives if they felt they were getting the talent pipeline they needed to fill their positions. Moore said a goal is to start hiring students right after high school.

“It would be fantastic to have that pipeline within the public school system that exists where folks view this industry as a future,” he said. “Manufacturing itself isn’t, for lack of a better word, sexy. We’re not the upscale Silicon Valley startup, so how do I sell that to someone looking at everyone else that a lot goes into making a roll of toilet paper or Swiffer products. That’s the disconnect where we can connect better.”

Oliver said the pipeline is there for engineering and production. However, he said he struggles with finding employees for skilled maintenance and often has to seek people from outside the state.

Beam agreed that he has a pipeline for engineering but he said his company has trouble filling entry-level positions. He mentioned partnerships with community colleges to get people into these positions but hasn’t had much luck.

Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

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