"This has truly been a collaborative effort, one of the most successful I have ever been a part of, with all parties truly focused on developing a repeatable, transportable workforce readiness program that can be quickly and easily implemented by any area manufacturer."
Rick Dockstader, Plant Manager, Presto Products Company, South Boston, VA
The Workforce Readiness Initiative: Retention of Manufacturing in Southern Virginia (WRI) is a workforce training effort managed by the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC) staff and funded by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission (TIC Grant #2388), the Dan River Region Collaborative and Presto Products Company, Inc. This initiative resulted from a request from The Honorable Mary Rae Carter, deputy secretary of commerce and trade for rural development, to the SVHEC leadership for a “workforce intervention”. The intervention was deemed urgent and necessary to secure and accommodate a significant capital investment and expansion of the Presto Products Company facility in South Boston, Virginia.
Charged with finding a way to meet the training needs of this major employer to enable the company to remain and grow in southern Virginia, The Honorable Mary Rae Carter reached out to the SVHEC leadership to initiate discussions on what is now a regional effort. A regional project management team consisting of Dr. Nettie Simon-Owens, Director of Workforce Services (SVHEC), Mr. Frank Strickler, Senior Project Manager with the Virginia Department of Business Assistance (VDBA), and Mr. Steve Bridges, Business Development Manager with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), was formed to spearhead this effort. This broad-reaching project management team developed a rigorous Request for Proposal process for engaging the most appropriate, accommodating, and cost-effective training providers for this project. The outcome has been the creation and delivery of a unique employer-driven, cross-industry applicable, comprehensive training program that will improve the workplace skills of incumbent workers. “Dr. Betty Adams and Dr. Nettie Simon-Owens along with the staff at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center are to be commended for the massive task undertaken by them to meet the needs of Presto’s current and future workforce. This SVHEC led workforce initiative is an excellent model for bringing together public/private partnerships, cooperation and regional efforts to meet specific workforce needs of an existing industry. Providing workforce training solutions for existing businesses is critical and this initiative represents a creative, resourceful, and replicable approach. ” Carter shared.
While the WRI multi-faceted training program was designed with Presto’s specific training needs in mind, it has local, regional, and state implications through plans to replicate the training model developed for this project. Currently in development in conjunction with the WRI is a replicable work readiness training program that will be used to create a viable work-ready applicant pool for employers throughout the region. Plans are to launch the work readiness training program in late spring 2013.
Presto Products Company is serving as the pilot business for the WRI. Presto is a market-leading supplier of products ranging from private label food and disposer bags and packaging closures to soil stabilization materials and specialty stretch films with five manufacturing facilities in four states. The sole east coast facility has been in South Boston, Virginia since 1980. The South Boston facility is one of Halifax County’s largest and most successful employers.
The South Boston plant is currently experiencing unprecedented transition and growth and has added new production lines during the last 24 months. This rapid expansion has taxed the most experienced workers and presented an even bigger challenge for the facility. To successfully incorporate the new product lines and to maintain a competitive advantage, Presto’s leadership team identified the “soft skills” and technical skills that needed to be enhanced in the incumbent workers and for new hires.
A focus of the training initiative is to help Presto Products’ South Boston facility shift culturally and organizationally towards lean manufacturing ideals and principles. Some of the anticipated outcomes will include reduced waste, improved efficiency, and productivity, and increased operational profitability.
The Workforce Readiness Initiative is anticipated to be a 3 to 5 year project delivered in two phases. Upon completion of Phase 1 of the training program, employees will possess a Virginia Career Readiness Certificate (CRC), a portable skills credential that is recognized by employers throughout the commonwealth and multiple other states. The CRC assures both the employer and the employee that the basic skills needed for a position are possessed by the certificate holder. Additionally, all successful participants will receive multiple Lean Manufacturing certificates of completion. These certificates translate across industries, are industry valued and represent versatile skill sets.
While Presto Products Company and its employees will benefit directly from this initiative, ultimately the power of the initiative is in future replications. The replicable model will include multiple regional training providers and will deliver a solution for addressing two key problems for manufacturers: 1) retention of incumbent workers and 2) a sufficient applicant pool from which to choose new hires, according to Simon-Owens.
The Workforce Readiness Initiative: Retention of Manufacturing in Southern Virginia is partially funded by the Virginia Tobacco Commission and is managed by the Workforce Services staff at the SVHEC. For more information, contact Sandra Conner at 434-572-5506, toll free 1-800-283-0098 ext. 5506, or email