Workforce 101 – Words of wisdom for SWVA’s next generation

Article 10/11 in the Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce written series by United Way of Southwest Virginia.

September 17, 2017 (Abingdon, VA) – During our Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce interviews, quite a few words of wisdom were offered up by our interviewees. They’ve been there. They’ve done that. What does our current workforce have to say to our future workforce?

Try lots of jobs until you find your fit.

“I was told, ‘Do every job you can.’ So I did.”
– Brandon Turner, IT, Universal Fibers

There are probably jobs close by that you don’t know about.

“We were having a conversation over the phone with a senior in college to help him with a research project. It turns out that he was from Bristol and he was amazed to know that we were here. That conversation led to a larger conversation, and Logan has worked here ever since.”
– Brendan McSheehy, Vice President of Innovation, Sustainability, and IP, Universal Fibers

Southwest Virginia wants you to stay.

“We want them to work in a career they love near their families and communities and we want them to have a positive impact on Southwest Virginia.”
– Tim Lawson, Human Resources Manager, Universal Fibers

Find something that matters to you and volunteer.

“To find out how your passions can be used in the community, you have to get involved. Volunteering should be part of life. I’d encourage the next generation interested in healthcare to volunteer with a junior rescue squad or at one of Mountain States’ hospitals.”
– Angie Vanover, Registered Nurse, Russell County Medical Center 

Pursue an internship or job shadow opportunity.

“Find a company that sees your potential and invests in you. It makes a big difference when you can participate in hands-on learning.”
– Karen Sorber, CEO, Micronic Technologies

Get some type of training.

“Spend six weeks learning to drive a truck, spend eight weeks learning line working, spend eighty hours learning how to weld, get a two-year degree in nursing, or a four-year degree in engineering – whatever you do, make sure you’re gaining skills in the process that are needed in the workforce.”
– Perry Hughes, Director of Workforce Development, Wytheville Community College 

Lean on your support system.

“I’ve always had the opinion that anybody can do anything if they’re willing to put the effort into it. So, it wasn’t a question of whether or not I could do what it took for the class. It was whether or not I had the support. In my opinion, I have the best parents on the face of the planet. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
– Gavin Burnett, Graduate, Wytheville Community College

Education is important.

“Education empowers you. Not only does college help you gain knowledge about theories and practices, but it teaches perseverance and self-confidence. Education is not just my profession. I believe it’s the way to success in life.”
– Jennifer Brewster, Graduate, Bluefield College

Be realistic about your path to success.

“I think a lot of students have this idea of what their path to success looks like, but it’s not realistic. They graduate from high school or college and they don’t have any work experience to go with their diploma or their degree. It’s good to get a degree, but it’s also important to show that you made it a point to work and that you have some transferable skills.”
– Jared Hall, Virginia Produce

Learn through employment if you can.

“Work experience in a program like we have or even an entry-level job prepares you for the future. As long as we can get our young students started working, and encourage them to work hard and work well, they’ll get the drive to keep going and work their way up – whether that’s here at Virginia Produce, or somewhere else.”
Matthew Beamer, Virginia Produce

Learn from mentors and the generations that go before you.

“When I was in ICU, I was the baby of that unit. The people I worked with were always ten or more years older than me. They taught me the right way to do things. That’s very much molded me into the nurse I am.”
– Angie Vanover, Registered Nurse, Russell County Medical Center

Strengthen your soft skills.

“Soft skills don’t usually come from education or a job, but they’re necessary to any career – things like knowing how to communicate with your coworkers, being on time, listening well, and accepting feedback.”
– Tim Lawson, Human Resources Manager, Universal Fibers

Find a company to work for that cares and invests in their employees.

“The owners of this company are shining examples of wellness. If you know Tom and Kyra Bishop, you know they live it. They breathe it. And they know that wellness is not just physical fitness. They really care about their employees.”
– Linda Stollings, FitPrescriptions, Berry Enterprises

You can make a difference when you’re young.

“One thing that was amazing to learn was that you can make a difference in the lives of adults when you’re just a young kid. When I was a courtesy clerk, I asked this gentleman if he needed help out with his groceries. I got to his car and put his groceries in. He turned around with a tear rolling down his face and told me he had a disease and that it would have been extremely difficult for him to put those groceries in his car by himself. He said, ‘You don’t know what kind of difference you just made.’”
– Kevin Stafford, Vice President of Marketing, Food City

Entering the workforce is not an easy transition, but the advice offered by our interviewees can help prepare tomorrow’s workforce to step into a world of opportunity.

Article 10/11. The written “Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce” series was created by United Way of Southwest Virginia. The introductory article was released in May 2017, with nine articles to be released online on the first and third Sundays from May-September, and published in various print publications across the region. Each of the nine articles will share the stories of local workers around topics that specifically affect Southwest Virginia such as local livable-wage jobs, local innovation, the value of working at an early age, the uniqueness of the community college system, and combining passion with skill. The last article will provide an overview of actions being taken by United Way of Southwest Virginia to bridge the gap between the worlds of learning and work to strengthen the workforce of tomorrow. To keep up with the full series of articles, or for more information about United Way of Southwest Virginia’s initiatives to equip tomorrow’s workforce, visit

Read the other articles in the Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce series
Learn about our initiatives to equip tomorrow’s workforce
Get your business involved with the Careers Expo for Youth

About United Way of Southwest Virginia
United Way of Southwest Virginia fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Southwest Virginia because they are the building blocks for a good quality of life. Through an initiative-based cradle-to-career approach, United Way of Southwest Virginia is creating sustainable solutions to address the challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce. United Way convenes cross-sector partners to make an impact on the most complex problems in our region. Through collaboration with government, business, nonprofit and individuals, United Way innovates for positive, lasting social change. With a footprint that covers almost 15% of the state of Virginia, United Way of Southwest Virginia serves Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington and Wise, and the cities of Galax and Norton. For more information about United Way of Southwest Virginia, visit