DARS' offices in Northern Virginia were busy this spring organizing job fairs. The agency-sponsored job fairs have proven to be a valuable investment for area businesses and the DARS workforce staff and have helped numerous DARS clients with diverse abilities go to work.
The Northern Virginia district job fair included 17 businesses and 85 job seekers from DARS, DBVI and other Employment Service Organization partners. Panera Bread held preliminary interviews that day and scheduled candidates for in-store interviews the following week. They hired six candidates as a result of this job fair. Business representatives were impressed with the presentation and preparedness of the job seekers. DARS staff benefitted from interacting with businesses and gathering information about jobs to share with other DARS job candidates.
The DARS Culpeper office partnered with the Virginia Employment Commission and Rappahannock Goodwill Industries to sponsor a healthcare job fair. Ten healthcare-related businesses participated. Again, several candidates were interviewed on the spot or scheduled for future interviews that resulted in several job offers. Businesses raved at how organized the event was and how well the candidates presented themselves.
The Fredericksburg office hosted a job fair that included 12 area businesses and nearly 60 job seekers. Panera Bread had such a positive experience at the Northern Virginia job fair, its Fredericksburg location participated and scheduled six candidates for interviews. Sodexo Food Service at University of Mary Washington also scheduled several candidates for job interviews.
For our DARS job candidates, these agency-hosted events mean more personalized conversations in a less intimidating environment. For businesses that are actively recruiting persons with diverse abilities, it is an opportunity to proactively engage and hire those candidates. For DARS staff, it is beneficial to engage with multiple businesses at one venue and shows our candidates that we are supporting their job search.
Successful business engagement requires creating opportunities that directly connect our job seekers with the business community. The result is a trifecta - a win for employers, a win for our candidates and a win for our agency.
When I started as a Business Development Manager for DARS in 2015 covering Southwest Virginia from Wytheville to Bristol, I set a goal of visiting every manufacturing facility in the region (of which there are at least 100!).
At the time, Gov. McAuliffe had issued Executive Order 46, supporting Virginians with disabilities “to find career pathways through education and training that lead to full-time, competitively waged jobs.” I was determined to discover the wealth of manufacturing job opportunities in the region while educating these companies about hiring individuals with disabilities.
Meanwhile, the Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing expanded, collaborating with our business services team, which is comprised of workforce and economic development professionals, chambers of commerce, state college systems and businesses. We share the common goal of supporting our local businesses in finding qualified job candidates to meet their hiring needs through recruiting, education and training.
I invited members of the Business Services team to join me on these tours. The first tour was at GE Aviation in nearby West Jefferson, N.C., which had just announced the addition of 105 new manufacturing jobs.
Universal Fibers was the second and largest tour, with 40 people in tow. This high-tech manufacturer wowed us with its unique color-dyeing process that spins fibers into exclusive products such as carpets for classic Corvettes and Disney cruise ships, the PINK apparel line of Victoria Secret, and dental floss for Johnson & Johnson.
The host of another tour, Tempur-Pedic, produces its signature mattresses and pillows in Duffield. During this visit, we got a glimpse of this massive production of specialty foam – originally designed by NASA to cushion aircraft seats – that measured hundreds of yards long. The pillows are shaped in a machine resembling a huge sandwich press and then cut with 6-foot blades.
Touring Gatorade’s bottling and distribution facility in Wytheville was another visual feast. The production process resembled a rainbow of liquid spinning like tornadoes through clear tubes lining the walls. The bottles are made by another manufacturer – Amcor – adjacent to Gatorade and shuttled to the plant for filling.
How have these tours paid off for our job candidates? Universal Fibers has hired four people, including one client who attended DARS’ Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities manufacturing academy. Somic America has also hired two job candidates.
In the long-term, these tours laid the groundwork for increasing awareness of DARS’ Business Services, CPID’s manufacturing academies and the manufacturing training program at DARS’ Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville – all important resources for a pipeline of talent.
Peggy Hurley has started a new job at the Virginia Employment Commission, but will continue to work with DARS on business services efforts in the Southwest region.