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Eastman job fair draws interest
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About 100 people turned out Tuesday for an Eastman Chemical Co. career fair and panel at Patrick Henry Community College. The panel members stressed the importance of STEM education and backgrounds in engineering. They added that the company does hire some entry-level positions and that applicants should understand the WorkKeys test. The test is a skills assessment that Eastman uses when looking at prospective employees. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Eastman Chemical Co. is looking for employees, and the best way to get a leg up is through continuing education, according to a panel of Eastman managers who spoke Tuesday at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC).

The panel took place at the college’s Frith Building as part of an Eastman career fair. Roughly 100 people attended the event, including PHCC students and job-seekers.

The panel consisted of five managers at Eastman’s Fieldale plant: Dennis Corrigan, quality manager; Brian Miller, site manager; Pat Caldarera, operations manager; Ricky Nelson, health, safety, environment and security site manager; and Steve Stracener, operation services manager.

Eastman manufactures a variety of chemical products, according to Corrigan, but the specialty of the Martinsville site is high-performance window film.

“Martinsville, Va., is the heart of the performance film business,” he said. “I would even say that Martinsville is the window film capital of the world.”

Corrigan said the Fieldale plant, which Eastman acquired from Solutia in 2012, is the company’s third largest site in terms of employees, with about 500 people.

Generally, panel members said, the company seeks employees with backgrounds in engineering, including chemical and electrical engineering, although it does offer some entry-level positions.

“Over the next few years, we’re going to be hiring,” Stracener said. “We would love to hire folks with experience, but the truth is, there’ s not a whole lot of people out there these days with a lot of experience. … If they’ve got experience, they may advance through their career a little quicker … but we hire at entry level, and experience is not necessarily required.”

According to Miller, however, the realities of advanced manufacturing make a solid educational background and computer skills a plus for those who would like to work at the company.

“Working in advanced manufacturing,” he said, “you’ve got to have a strong math and science background. You’ve got to have computer skills. You’ve got to be able to use Excel and Word and email. You’ve got to be comfortable in that environment. Unfortunately, a lot of folks that aren’t willing to go back and retrain and tool up are not going to be able to find good-paying jobs in advanced manufacturing, because we’ve got to have those skill sets to be successful.”

Miller stressed to potential applicants the importance of understanding the WorkKeys test, a job skill assessment test that Eastman uses when looking at prospective employees.

“We do this assessment with PHCC to evaluate four or five areas of capability,” he said. “If you’re able to get through that assessment, we’ll look at other aspects of your résumé and do an interview. … There are also practice exams you can take to get ready for the WorkKeys test.”

Miller suggested that applicants who have not done algebra or geometry, or those whose reading comprehension needs strengthening, do remedial work on their own. “But make sure that your skills are ready for when you take the WorkKeys exam,” he added.

Miller also advised job-seekers to keep an eye on to keep abreast of job openings.

“If you get an interview,” Miller added, “make sure that you come prepared and put your best foot forward. Any kind of relevant experience that you can get between now and when that day comes, take every opportunity to get that.”

Eastman announced in September that it will invest $40 million and hire 25 employees over the next three years to expand its infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities in Henry County and Martinsville. Officials did not state Tuesday exactly how many employees they are seeking to hire.

PHCC President Dr. Angeline Godwin said she is pleased by Eastman’s commitment to the area.

“What was most encouraging to me was that Eastman talked a lot about the future,” she said. “They talked about their excitement about growth here and future job opportunities, as well as those (jobs) that are currently available that they’re accepting applications for today. There are many pathways to a good career with this company. We’re grateful that Patrick Henry (Community College) is a part of it.”

Godwin said she was not surprised that panel members stressed the importance of education to job-seekers.

“As a college, we believe we understand the fundamentals of advanced manufacturing, what it takes to be successful in that workplace,” she said. “What we’re focused on at the college … (are) the skills and the competencies that a modern manufacturing facility demands. Advanced manufacturing today is heavily technology driven. The other side is, there are also entry-level positions. There’s a place for people to start, and the company is committed to helping grow people and train them inside the company.”

Many of those who attended the career fair filled out applications after the panel ended, including PHCC student Hank Tipold.

Tipold, 46, is about to finish his first semester in the field of industrial electronics.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in school, but I’m glad I decided to go back,” he said. “You can’t go wrong.”

Tipold said he has worked in labor and manufacturing all his life, but lately he’s been able to find only seasonal work in those fields.

“That’s no way to get a career,” he said.

Tipold was encouraged by the Eastman panel.

“The opportunities are out there,” he said. “I’ll stay in the area once I do graduate.”

Zayd Muhammad, 42, is not a PHCC student, but after hearing the Eastman panel speakers, he said he is considering enrolling at the college.

“They’re talking about growing the company, and that’s a job in the future,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out, you’ve still got the education.”


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