Daily Press: Peninsula employers look to fill high-demand jobs

February 26, 2016

This TidewaterBiz article was printed on February 25, 2016 and written by Tara Bozick. Visit here to see the article. 

What are Peninsula employers looking for when hiring potential employees?

Experience or training in a particular field are always beneficial. But soft skills such as communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, customer service, showing up on time, being a team player and self-motivation are always in high demand, according to employer focus groups hosted Wednesday by Thomas Nelson Community College at its new Center for Building and Construction Trades at the Goodwill property on Saville Row.

Thomas Nelson asked for employer feedback as it finalizes its curriculum for a new training program to help low-income residents receiving help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.

Last year, Virginia received a $22.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help test new programs in helping low-income families land better jobs in high-demand fields. Of that money, Thomas Nelson is using $2.6 million for a pilot training program starting this spring, said Deborah Wright, Thomas Nelson's vice president of workforce development.

Thomas Nelson plans to train hundreds of future employees over the next few years, President John Dever told attendees. The idea is to help local folks strengthen their lives and obtain family-sustaining wages.

"The whole socio-economic fabric of our community is going to be stronger as a result," Dever said.

The Peninsula Housing & Builders Association, a partner in the new construction trades center, is supplying the facilities maintenance curriculum, said association CEO Leslie Holthoff Martin. She said association members have expressed a need for carpenters and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) technicians.

"There's a really good living in these types of jobs and they don't require a four-year degree," Martin said, adding folks could work up from facilities maintenance to becoming well-paid property managers, which are also in demand.

Peninsula Housing & Builders members also notice a gap between what students are learning in high school and what they need to walk onto a job in the construction field, Martin said. That includes basic computer skills and the ability to talk to clients regularly.

Health-care jobs are in huge demand and Thomas Nelson plans to offer medical office assistant training. In that focus group, Chelsey Goff, recruitment and retention coordinator with Home Instead Senior Care, said she is looking for folks who can not only show up to work on time, but also workers who are compassionate and can emotionally connect with clients.

Soft skills are imperative in a today's multi-generational workplace, said Leon Hines, regional manager for the marine service groups for recruiting and staffing firm CTR Group. The ability to work in teams, communicate well and to take constructive criticism will serve workers well in addition to being flexible with work hours as some marine trades run production lines 24 hours a day.

Welders and machinists, in particular, are in high demand, Hines said.

"There's a tremendous need," Hines said.

The pilot program plans to offer classes in the area of medical office assistants, facilities maintenance, information technology and office administration, welding and commercial truck driving.

In addition to hiring students, SNAP training program director Val Livingston is asking employers to get involved through field trips to workplaces, internships and apprenticeships and providing insight into their needs. For more information about the program, call 757-825-2937.

Bozick can be reached by phone at 757-247-4741. Sign up for a free weekday business news email at TidewaterBiz.com.