Employment Challenges and Opportunities in the West Piedmont Planning District

A March 4th article in the Martinsville Bulletin entitled 2 keys to finding a good job in Martinsville area:  Get trained, get straight describes some of the challenges residents of Patrick and Henry counties and the City of Martinsville, face in securing employment.  The article also touches on attributes employers are looking for when hiring someone.

The article notes that during the 20th century, the area was well-endowed with manufacturing jobs, many of which did not require so much as a high school diploma.  In fact, the Martinsville community employed about 23,000 within the sectors of furniture and textile manufacturing after World War II.  The signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during the early 1990s, however, changed this.  The main tenet of NAFTA was free trade throughout the three nations of North America.  While the intentions of NAFTA were noble, the Agreement had a devastating effect on the local economy, as jobs in the once-stable industries in the area largely relocated overseas.  A major issue was that many of the employees who lost their jobs had limited skill sets to acquire new employment.  The Great Recession, which began in 2008, further compounded the job losses that took place. The article also highlights the fact that drug use is a major barrier to job entrants in the area.  As noted, that many cannot pass a drug test, which is often a prerequisite for many employment positions.

The picture for employment now, however, is a bit brighter.  Current job openings exceed the number of employees available to fill them, and Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) data bear this out.  The data shows that unemployment within the West Piedmont Planning District as a whole was 12.1% in 2010, but this dropped dramatically to 4.9% in 2017.

While the jobs are once again available in the region, the article indicates some of the “soft skills” employers are looking for.  Candidates who can learn and adapt while possessing a solid work ethic, who are alert, who can learn, have the ability to comprehend information, and whose qualifications are current are in demand in local workplaces.  Other qualities employers are seeking in employees include arriving at work on time and staying the full day.  The article notes that the Virginia Workforce Center offers training related to work readiness as part of an effort to teach these soft skills.

With the region focused on attracting advanced manufacturing investment, numerous opportunities exist for one to learn necessary skills for employment.  Referenced is the Commonwealth Centre for Advanced Training (CCAT), located in the new Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre, to serve as a facility for employers to train new hires using their own specialized equipment.  There are many other opportunities, however, for one to advance employment prospects in the region.  For example, about 30 percent of the world’s coated and dyed performance films are manufactured in Martinsville/Henry County.  As a result, a partnership between Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC), Eastman Chemical, and New College Institute was formed to promote this industry by establishing a pipeline through PHCC for those seeking the proper credentials to enter this field.  Following completion, prospective employees will be guaranteed an interview with Eastman Chemical.  Other opportunities for training in advanced manufacturing are available at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research’s Gene Haas Center for Integrated Machining; PHCC’s Manufacturing and Engineering Technology (MET) Complex; as well as multiple training opportunities via New College Institute (NCI) offering advanced manufacturing as well as shipbuilding via the Shipbuilding Mobile Experience Lab.  Many job and training opportunities are available throughout the West Piedmont Region.

Posted in West Piedmont.

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