Manufacturing Jobs Returning To US; Workforce Development Strategy Change Required, Sec. Of Commerce and Trade Tells Chamber

Published 3:42 pm Thursday, March 19, 2015

FARMVILLE — Manufacturing jobs are heading back to the US and Virginia’s Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Maurice Jones, said the state must get its workforce prepared to attract those good-paying jobs.

And there is no reason why the Farmville area cannot ride that wave to prosperity, according to the Kenbridge native and Hampden-Sydney College graduate.

“We should be very, very bullish about the opportunities of a place like Prince Edward, Farmville and the surrounding areas. Manufacturing is on its way back to the US and it’s areas just like this that they need,” Jones told the Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce last week. “People just like the people of this county and this place that they need.”

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But those jobs need people who are trained and capable of performing the required work.

Workforce development, he said is the ultimate “game-changer” when it comes to attracting the new wave of manufacturing jobs that will be returning to the US.

Crucially, developing the workforce does not mean sending everyone off for a four-year degree.

Community colleges, Jones said, will play the pivotal role in providing the kind of technical training and competencies required.

That gospel will be spread, he promised.

Virginia currently only has 165,000 people in its workforce with the necessary competencies for the returning jobs that will involve technology and will pay good salaries.

In the next 15 years, that number must reach 500,000.

“In order to do it, one, we’ve got to get into the middle schools and the high schools and families and coaches and parents and teachers and guidance counselors and say, ‘You know what? There are multiple ways to prosperity. One may well be a four-year degree. We should never discourage that. But there are other ways. And one may very well be: get your dual enrollment at Southside Virginia Community College today,’” Jones said.

Manufacturing, he reiterated, “is the biggest chunk of jobs that we see, both growing and being attracted to Virginia. Places like Prince Edward and southern Virginia are ripe because they have a great quality of life, they have great decent people who—frankly jobs now are really valuing a workforce that is willing to stay…As an employer what you want is a loyal employee. Places like this offer that.”

But those loyal employees must have the competencies.

That is absolutely essential.

“At the end of the day,” Jones warned, “if you cannot provide an employer with the best-prepared workforce for the jobs, they’re going elsewhere and they’ll go fast.”

Illustrating his point, Jones spoke about his visit to a state-of-the-art Lipton tea plant in Suffolk that produces a million bags of tea an hour. A Lipton executive told Jones that business is booming and the company is going to invest $5 billion in the US in the next three years.

Jones had only question. How does Virginia attract that investment.

“He looked at me without hesitation, and he said, ‘Prove to me that you’ve got the workforce that I need,’” Jones related.

And what kind of workforce does he need?

“He said, ‘I’ll be honest with you, 50 percent or more of my jobs do not require a four-year degree from college. What I need, I need people who have graduated from high school and then I need them to get the right license or the right certification or the right apprenticeship; I need them to get some post-secondary competencies, but I don’t need the four-year degree.”

And what kind of jobs will those competencies attract?

Describing the Lipton tea plant, Jones said “what you see are robots and people. And you see a floor so clean you can probably eat off it. These are cool jobs, these are good-paying jobs, these are jobs that require you to think, they require you to work with technology, work with robots, these are jobs that we should be teaching our young folks to aspire to.”

The mind-set of many must change if such jobs and prosperity are going to be won.

“The honest to goodness truth is the way we talk about it now is somehow it is secondary for you to aspire to these jobs and that is a disservice to our young folks, a disservice to the commonwealth,” Jones said, “because if we don’t have enough young folks in the supply chain that want these jobs we will not have enough workers to do these jobs and North Carolina will be sending me that thank you note.”

In the next 10 years, Virginia is going to have to fill 1.5 million jobs, a half a million of those jobs will be new jobs and 50 to 65 percent of those will be jobs, Jones said, “for which the competencies that you need you can acquire through a certification in information technology, a license in health care, a certification or apprenticeship in another discipline.”

Virginia’s community colleges, he continued, “are critical in this journey. They are, right now, the largest providers of the training of the competencies that we’re talking about and we have really, really shifted our focus now with respect to our workforce.

“Our priority now is to get people the credentials they need…because if we can show businesses we’ve got the best prepared workforce for the 21st century this is where they’ll come, this is where they’ll stay, this is where they’ll grow. But that million, five hundred thousand jobs I’m talking about that we need to fill, we are not producing enough folks now with the competencies for those jobs.”

If Virginia can get its workforce prepared for the right jobs, Jones told chamber members, “we’ll be in good shape.”