By Sarah Vogelsong, The Progress-Index
DINWIDDIE — When Christian Vaughan and Miles Gilmore approached Dinwiddie Area Forester Heather Dowling to learn about a job, they knew just what to do. Already neatly dressed, the young men offered Dowling a polite hello, a firm handshake and careful attention.
For many employment-seekers, those few actions could be expected to propel them several steps closer to the goal of having a job by Monday and a paycheck by next Friday. But for Vaughan and Gilmore, the job needed was a few years down the road. After all, the young men were only in their early teens, and their “interview” with Dowling was just a part of Dinwiddie County’s 4th Annual Industry Day.
“We try to make sure this is what it’s like in the real world,” said Dinwiddie agricultural education teacher Cindy Blaha.
At the Feb. 2 event, representatives from a wide range of fields and industries turned out to Dinwiddie High School to give the county’s seventh- and eighth-graders insight into what kind of jobs may be available to them after graduation, and what skills and qualifications they’ll need to net those jobs.
“Get all the computer skills you can get,” Susan Butterworth of Appomattox Regional Library System told student Sydney Jolly.
“You have to be creative. You have to be patient,” Dinwiddie Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Tasha Ridley told two young people interested in law enforcement. “You have to be (open to) diversity, culturally, because you’ll meet people from all different backgrounds, and that affects the decisions you make daily.”
Industry Day, now in its fourth year, is offered as part of Dinwiddie’s Youth Workforce Development Initiative. This program, which in 2016 received one of the National Association of Counties’ coveted Achievement Awards, aims to ensure not only that Dinwiddie’s young people can get jobs after graduation but that county businesses have a local pool of skilled labor to draw from.
“We’d like to see our Dinwiddie students be able to get jobs in Dinwiddie,” said Vicky Heller, director of human resources for the Dinwiddie-based Bank of McKenney.
One of the ways that Industry Day tries to make the job-seeking process less daunting to students is by recruiting county graduates to man the event tables.
“It’s easier for students to see one of their peers who have gone through the Dinwiddie schools and been successful,” said Youth Workforce Development Initiative coordinator Cierra Goode. “It makes them relatable.”
One such graduate who turned out Feb. 2 was Paul Branch, a lineman for Dominion Virginia Power. A 1999 graduate of Dinwiddie High, Branch had little knowledge of or interest in utility work growing up. But one day, a friend of his father’s who worked with the electric company noticed Branch’s work ethic and offered him a chance to become a lineman.
That offer led to a career that Branch has found highly fulfilling, and in which he has climbed the ranks from the ground up to his current position.
“I wish I’d have known more about linemen and what they did back in high school,” he said. “Young people don’t understand what a great job it is.”
For Rolls-Royce, which operates the Crosspointe facility in Prince George County, Industry Day was a prime setting to inform young people about the opportunities that will be available to them before graduation, such as summer internships. Two Dinwiddie High School students, said Dinwiddie graduate and Crosspointe machinist Carl Bishop, are already slated to intern with the company this May — experiences that could lead to full-time jobs down the line.
“We have to make sure we’ve given them all the necessary tools and resources to be successful,” said Goode.
According to many of the industry representatives who turned out Thursday, students are already on the right track.
“They are asking very relevant questions,” said Dinwiddie Deputy County Administrator Tammie Collins.
Heller agreed: “Each year you can see the progression.”