CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Some of the most prominent employers in West Virginia say they’re hiring but they need applicants who demonstrate team spirit, flexibility and problem-solving skills.
“If you hear nothing else today, you’ve just heard four employers in West Virginia say they’re hiring,” said Sarah Armstrong Tucker, West Virginia’s community and technical college chancellor.
The four employers included representatives of Appalachian Power, Toyota West Virginia, Procter & Gamble and a small business, MotionMasters.
Those companies were represented on a panel focusing on career readiness at the annual Education Summit in Charleston. Tucker was the panel’s moderator.
Each of the panelists — Appalachian Power CEO Chris Beam, Matt Oliver of Toyota’s human resources department, Ryan Moore of the human resources department of P&G’s new plant in the Eastern Panhandle, and MotionMasters President Diana Sole Walko — emphasized that they offer not just jobs but careers.
So they want applicants who are looking to be committed, to grow, to help the company solve problems and to be part of teams.
Toyota’s Oliver said the manufacturing facility in Buffalo is in expansion mode, hiring about 10 to 15 new employees a month. He said some of the company’s best hires are from rural backgrounds because they are accustomed to solving problems on their own.
“Teamwork is huge,” Oliver said, adding that the company needs people who don’t just work on clearly-visible problems but who also strive for continuous improvement. “We’re looking for people not only to solve problems, but also to solve problems that aren’t even there.”
Oliver says Toyota is challenged to find workers in skilled maintenance. The company often winds up hiring for those positions from out of state but is trying to develop local resources through vocational-education partnerships. “Those are the higher paying positions,” he said.
“We’re not getting the skillset we need for our skilled maintenance people so let’s make ’em,” Oliver said.
When Appalachian Power is hiring, the company looks for base skill sets — but also for applicants to demonstrate they know how to function in a team-based environment.
“First and foremost they have to have the ability to work with other employees,” Beam said.
He said students should be encouraged starting as young as pre-K. “These jobs are cool to have. These are good jobs. These aren’t jobs. It’s a career,” he said.
“These are high paying, high benefits. We need to get that message out. These are very good careers to have.”
P&G, which is still under construction, is hiring hundreds of workers for its plant in Berkeley County. But Moore said workers of all backgrounds and genders need to be encouraged to think about manufacturing as a career.
“Robots are not replacing jobs. I’m not hiring 700 people because robots are taking over,” Moore said.
The common denominator, he said, is willingness. Procter & Gamble can train everything else.
“You have to have the right attitude and the right aptitude.”
Walko of MotionMasters described her video production company as a small business but said that makes unselfish employees just as important as at the bigger businesses.
Because many in the audience were educators, she encouraged student participation in activities such as band or volleyball. “They’re going to learn how to overcome obstacles when working as a team,” she said.
She added, “I have turned away very, very talented young filmmakers because they didn’t know how to play on a team.”
She encouraged the educators in the audience to help students develop a curious nature.
“Preparing them to be interested, engaged, lifelong learners is really important,” Walko said. “The best thing you can do is help us with the lifelong learning and a love of learning.”
And she had particular advice for English teachers who are in classrooms filled with students who are native to texting and social media.
“If there are any English teachers out there, I would just say, ‘Get tougher,'” Walko said. “We really need good communication skills.”
Each of the business leaders agreed with West Virginia’s widespread concern over the effects of drug addiction on its workforce.
“Consistently, the No. 1 problem you hear is ‘Can’t get people who can pass a drug test.’ It’s just miserable,” Walko said.
Moore said his perspective is different because he recently moved to the region from working at P&G’s facilities elsewhere. “It’s a problem, unfortunately, in most places that you go,” he said.
He said P&G leaders were told to expect more than a 60 percent drug test failure rate, but the reality has been about 10 percent.
He acknowledged that some potential applicants likely decide not to go through the process if they know they’re going to fail.
Appalachian Power experiences about a 2 to 3 percent drug test failure rate on new hiring, Beam said.
Each of the business leaders said fighting that problem has to be done at more than one level. They said families, the government and the business community each have to demonstrate that they’re supportive.
Walko said one overriding solution for the state’s challenges is to encourage West Virginia’s population that there’s hope.
“I would like to see us all be more energized about what’s great in West Virginia,” Walko said. “We have to do what we can to be encouraging and keep people engaged. Let’s change our story. There are positives here.”
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) November 1, 2017