Business leaders meet at PDCCC

Published 8:31 pm Thursday, March 24, 2016

By Nancy Harrison Parker

Special to the News-Herald

Suffolk business leaders and Paul D. Camp Community College joined forces March 10 to discuss opportunities to strengthen the city’s workforce.

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At the forefront of the discussion was the need for employees with the skills and experience needed for today’s growing industries. Just as importantly, “soft skills” are crucial to both large and small companies and are often a missing link in the younger market.

Dr. Bill Aiken, PDCCC interim president, shared the college’s three-year strategic plan for a better-trained workforce, which includes relevant programs, partnerships and productivity.

“Paul D. Camp Community College is committed to working with area businesses to provide quality employees with the specific skills needed in our market,” he said.

Randy Betz, vice president of workforce development, shared examples of successful partnerships the college has fostered with Keurig Green Mountain and Newport News Shipbuilding.

Dr. Tara Atkins-Brady, vice president of student and academic development, highlighted existing and new areas of study the college offers, in addition to the soft skills training PDCCC students receive.

“Our programs incorporate workforce readiness and emphasize important skills, such as punctuality, professionalism and safety in the workplace,” she said.

As the workforce ages, business leaders are looking ahead to train and hire new employees. Electrical and instrumentation specialists are particularly hard to find. Good candidates are in short supply.

“Qualified and experienced instrument techs are among the most skilled and highest paid within the hourly workforce,” Martie Ann King of Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA noted.

The group also stressed the need for candidates who prefer the technical field degree to a traditional four-year degree for techs and mechanics. Instrumentation techs and maintenance mechanics specializing in manufacturing technology are in high demand. Often, companies must use third-party recruiters to fill vacancies. Many of these positions require career studies certificates or associate degrees that can be earned in as little as one to two years.

“As in the case with Keurig Green Mountain, we built the credentials based on what that particular employer needed,” Atkins-Brady said.

Other sought-after professions include information technology, telecommunications and network/cyber security. Col. Brett Reister, chief of staff with the Joint Staff J6, said, “A lot of resources are being invested to support communications network defense and cyber security.”

Additionally, from an IT perspective, many government service civilians who support the military are nearing retirement age; so, the Department of Defense is looking for professionals with technical qualifications, certifications and technical background, not necessarily four-year degrees, to fill its workforce requirements.

Further job growth in the healthcare sector also is expected to continue. However, Judy Raymond, executive director at Lake Prince Woods Retirement Community, revealed that home care nursing, which requires a unique set of skills, is expected to see a higher rate of growth, due to changes in healthcare delivery and reimbursement.

“Paul D. Camp Community College will continue to reach out to the business leaders throughout our market,” said Dr. Renee Felts, vice president of institutional advancement. “Discussions and partnerships like this enable us to come together to positively impact our community and grow our economy.”