Rockingham County
9:59 am
Wed July 2, 2014

Rockingham County: The Place for Small-Town Living, Outdoor Fun and JOBS!

Looking for a job? Look in Rockingham County.

Rockingham County has more than 600 jobs but not enough qualified applicants. The area is transitioning from textile and tobacco manufacturing into new industries.
Credit Rockingham County

It’s just after 12:30 in the afternoon and at Café  99, almost every table is full. A life-size figure of Marilyn Monroe eyes a tray of three hot dogs all the way, with a side of chips, waiting at the pick-up window. Near the front, table-top figurines of the ‘Rat Pack’ raise a glass and grin over customers’ shoulders as they devour home-made chicken salad sandwiches.

Café 99 sits on South Scales Street in Reidsville. Stepping inside is like stepping back into the 50’s and 60’s.  But owner David Gerrells isn't always smiling. “We have a difficult problem finding employees.” He manages six part-time employees in the restaurant. He also has about ten workers for his catering business, CaterFest.

“Now if we needed people to look at a TV screen or phone screen, anybody could do it,” says Gerrells. “But now days we have to teach people how to count money back because they don’t get that in school anymore.“ Gerrells says his best hiring tool is networking through his current workers.

Reidsville is one of the 6 cities and towns that make up Rockingham County. With a population of nearly 93,000, it sits in the northern rural part of the Piedmont just under the Virginia state line. Rockingham also has an unusual problem...more than 600 open jobs but few qualified applicants. Graham Pervier is president for the Rockingham County Partnership for Economic and Tourism Development. He says this problem is partially connected to a skills gap.

“Increasingly we see jobs that require a higher level of skills, machinists, welders,” says Pervier. According to Pervier, this area used to thrive in textile and tobacco manufacturing, but that's changed.  “We have a number of companies where community college training or some technical skill is almost an entry level requirement. Not just in Rockingham County but throughout the Triad, jobs going begging and good people looking for jobs, but there’s a skills discrepancy there.”
Online at NCWorks.gov, you'll find everything from a warehouse worker, to  industry sales reps. There's even a search for a field chemist and a dentist. The state commerce department admits some of these posts may be duplicates since companies advertise jobs at different sites. “We now have Bridgestone Aircraft Tire, an international company in Madison. We have Weil McLain in Eden, Ruger Firearms in Mayodan which will eventually have 500 well-paid employees,” explains Pervier. “Then we’ve done well in Rockingham County in the plastics, particularly in recycling. Two of the top 25 plastic recyclers in North America are located in Reidsville. Then expansions are always important. Most of these companies have other facilities in other states and in other countries.”

One company that's expanding and hiring is Israeli based Albaad. Its Reidsville plant, Albaad USA, employs 175 people who produce an array of body and facial wipes and distributes tampons.  Kathryn Harris is the Human Resource and Safety Manager. She says this is the third expansions since the plant began 10 years ago and the company prefers to hire from the local population.

“I generally always have hourly positions,” says Harris. However, in this rural community, she says it's hard to find workers who are highly trained or who have hi-tech design and engineering skills. “We have a production scheduler and a quality control document administrator. But we cannot find people locally who have those skill sets who can come in the door and fill any of those positions.” Since June, Harris has had to fill 10 professional openings. So far, she’s hired four people, two with of them from outside of Reidsville and Rockingham County. She’s also hiring for a new third production shift that goes into effect in August. That’s another 50 jobs. And according to Harris qualified workers need more than technical know-how. They also need soft skills. Such as appropriate dress, timeliness, good interpersonal skills, conflict resolution skills and not letting your digital device be a distraction.

In her 30 years of experience, she's witnessed a range of candidates lacking soft skills. “It’s just unbelievable the number of people who come to an interview in their pajamas and slippers, people who come into the door with kids in a stroller, when they’re sitting in front of you they’re texting. I’ve had this happen to me, they’ll bring in their lunch from McDonalds and say, I didn’t get time to eat. ‘Well I’m sorry, you don’t get to eat with me either.’”

On July 1, the North Carolina Commerce Department released the latest unemployment figures. As of May 2014, Rockingham’s unemployment rate rose slightly to 7.5 percent, an increase of 2 tenths of a percent from 7.3 in April. In Forsyth County, it's 6.4 percent up from 5.9 percent.  Guilford County's unemployment rate rose from 6.3 percent almost a full percentage point to 7.1. Harris and Pervier agree, a greater emphasis needs to be put on developing soft and technical skills beginning in high school. If not, Rockingham's residents won't be qualified for jobs area employers need to fill.

Rockingham County's municipal and business leaders say the skills gap is hurting the area economy.