Industries: Opportunities exist in area for young people

Published 8:50 am Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Demopolis High School students speak with Georgia Pacific’s Rebecca McKenzie and Fred Woods during a Local Industry Needs event Tuesday night. The event, sponsored by DHS and the University of West Alabama, also featured representatives from WestRock, Foster Farms, Prystup, Cemex, and others.

Demopolis High School students speak with Georgia Pacific’s Rebecca McKenzie and Fred Woods during a Local Industry Needs event Tuesday night. The event, sponsored by DHS and the University of West Alabama, also featured representatives from WestRock, Foster Farms, Prystup, Cemex, and others.

Students who attended an Industrial Needs Event at Demopolis High School Tuesday night heard from a variety of speakers with the most notable message being: high paying jobs exist in the area for those willing to educate and train themselves.
In a partnership with the University of West Alabama, DHS hosted representatives from industries from across the area, including WestRock, Foster Farms, Georgia Pacific, Prystup Packaging Products, and Cemex.
Organizing the event was Dr. Donnie Cobb, chair and associate professor of CIS/Technology at UWA. The idea was to bring industry leaders to speak directly to students about the opportunities they offer potential employees.
“We have great companies with great benefits right here. We want these young people to stay at home and train themselves for the great jobs that exist here,” Cobb said.
DCSS Superintendent Kyle Kallhoff said the event was a success, adding that it was a great learning opportunity for those who attended.
“One of the focuses of this event was to educate students and parents on the immediate work needs of industries in our area. Through the programs at UWA and the jobs available, there is no need to leave this area,” Kallhoff said.
The over-riding theme from many of the speakers: they have jobs, but not enough skilled workers to fill them.
“There are more jobs and opportunities here than you realize. But, you have to get educated. High school, four-year college, two-year college … you have to do one of those three things. The more you do the more you will earn,” said Fred Woods, senior human resources manager at Georgia Pacific’s Naheola Mill.
The need is particularly critical in the skill trades, such as welding and machinists.
“At this time, you could probably pick where you want to live with training in those areas. Everyone is trying to find electricians. You can’t find them within 100 miles of here,” Woods said.
Mike Closson, vice-president of marketing and business development with Prystup Packaging Products in Livingston said industries are looking to young people as the future of their companies.
“One of the problems we’re facing is that our workforce is aging. We’re going to need a lot of people (to fill those positions),” Closson said.
Calvin Knott Jr. and Sam Hutto of WestRock said jobs exist today at the plant in Demopolis.
“We have positions based on education. Someone could come and work for us right out of high school and not have to move to other areas,” Hutto said.
Paul Miller of Foster Farms said young people could begin working while continuing to build upon their skills and education.
“There’s an opportunity at Foster Farms for you to have an income and establish yourself at a young age. It allows you to position yourself to be a higher earner down the road,” Miller said.
Cobb said his department at UWA has established an industry advisory board for the university to better meet the needs of employers.
“We asked them to tell us what they want and we will meet those needs. We want to expand our programs to further meet the needs of the area and to see the area grow. The best way to do that is through education. We want people to grow up here, educate themselves here and ultimately join the workforce here,” he said.
Cobb added that UWA will be providing welding courses in both Demopolis and Livingston beginning in January.