09/14/12 — Getting a community ready to get to work

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Getting a community ready to get to work

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 14, 2012 1:46 PM

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Charles Brogden, human resource director at Franklin Baking Co., responds to a question about what potential workers must do to prepare for jobs in the future. He was part of an employer panel at Thursday night's Wayne County Work-Ready Communities kick-off event at Wayne Community College.

Approximately 55 people turned out Thursday night to hear how Wayne County is being positioned to be the first "work-ready community" in the state.

The Wayne County Work-Ready Community kick-off event, held at Wayne Community College, featured an overview of what it will take to accomplish that -- improved graduation rates, increased number of potential employees taking the Career Readiness Certification, or CRC, and employers committed to hiring a strong workforce.

"We all have a stake in what happens to our workforce," said Diane Ivey, executive director of Wayne Business and Industry Center.

First and foremost, she said, it is important to ask one question -- Who's at the table?

"It's collaboration and the partnerships that have Wayne County, if not the first, one of the first designated work-ready communities in North Carolina," she said. "What that really means is that in Wayne County, unlike many other counties, there are not many where all these people talk to one another and where they actually collaborate on these initiatives to move the needle forward."

A growing number of the county's businesses and industries are CRC-preferred, Mrs. Ivey said, recognizing the universal measure of employability skills.

For employers, it helps reduce training time and for applicants, it encourages skill achievement and helps students see skills they will need for a job, she added.

Mike Haney, vice president-existing industry specialist for Wayne County Development Alliance and moderator for the employer panel discussion at the event, said industries have certain "skill sets" they are looking for when looking for new employees.

"We work very closely with our partners, Wayne Community College, Wayne County Public Schools and industries themselves and our eastern region," he said.

Four industries were featured on the panel, represented by Charles Brogden, human resource director of Franklin Baking Co.; Ron Carter, service manager, Jackson and Sons; Van Sealey, business unit manager at Cooper Standard Automotive; and Clyde Stuhr, plant manager, General Industries.

Soft skills are becoming critical, Haney said, describing them as the intangibles such as interview skills, communication and teamwork.

Sealey and Carter said a "first impression" is often created immediately, during the interview and application process.

"You don't have to dress in a suit and tie to come to work in a manufacturing plant, but don't come in flip-flops and shorts," Brogden said.

His business looks at critical-thinking skills and problem-solving skills, said Carter.

"Plays well with others," he added. "A lot of time that's what we're looking for -- being a team player."

Certifications also matter, the group said.

"It certainly makes them more employable," Carter said. "They typically get the job offer before the others and that gives them a jump start."

"We are one of the companies that requires the CRC, so right off at the get-go, that's one of our measuring tools," Brogden said.

Workers willing to pursue additional training can also advance more rapidly, the men said.

"I think to grow as an employee, you must do more," Brogden said. "At our facility, we have a whole staff of employees that have never taken (the CRC) so we have really put pressure on those guys to go back, to take the CRC. That's going to help their growth. It'll also give us more reason to help them know where they stand."

"We offer tuition reimbursement. We actually push for them to continue their training," Sealey said.

Carter said his company does not require the CRC but does have career levels, and every level requires certifications.

The "grow your own" philosophy is also popular, Haney said, asking the panel what opportunities exist for employees to progress.

Stuhr and Brogden said their companies offer school reimbursement to employees returning to school

"We don't always promote the most senior person," Brogden said. "We want to promote the most qualified person. We do offer a lot, not only to our lower levels of employees, all the way up to our senior management."

The group was also asked about the most common reasons for turnover in their companies.

"Attendance," Brogden said. "We do have some really weird schedules. If you have job performance issues, we can help you there but we can't work to keep you there."

"I agree," said Sealey. "If you're there, we can coach you, mentor you."

"The guy who just won't show up for work," Stuhr said. "I have good grounds for moving them along and find someone who will show up. If they don't come with the mindset to provide me with a level of service, I can't keep them on staff."

What should potential workers be doing now to prepare themselves for a more technical job, Haney asked.

Carter said computer skills.

"You don't know computers, how circuits operate, it's going to be difficult to work in our industry," he said.

"Computers are the future. They're here and they're not going anywhere," Brogden said. "I keep going back to the CRC. It's an important tool to have."

"These kids coming out now with jobs in the future, they have got to come in with those critical-thinking skills," Sealey said.

"Prepare themselves for a lifetime of learning," was Stuhr's advice. "The education is not going to stop just because you've got your first job or certification."