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VGCC Brings Partners Together for Summit on Talent Pipeline


Employers, economic developers, and workforce development experts from across the region recently met at Vance-Granville Community College to learn more about how to meet the critical need to recruit and train workers. The first-of-its kind “Business & Industry Connect” Summit was held on Nov. 1 in the Civic Center on VGCC’s Main Campus.

“A win-win partnership”

Dr. Rachel Desmarais, president of VGCC, thanked the economic development commission directors in Vance, Granville, Franklin, and Warren counties for their vision and support of the summit. Along with those agencies, Glen Raven/Sunbrella of Norlina and Mars Petcare of Henderson also served as event sponsors.

The keynote speaker was Gene Lunger, Executive Vice President of Retail Operations for Ashley Furniture Industries, which is the world’s largest furniture manufacturer, in addition to its distribution and retail operations known as Ashley HomeStores.

Lunger argued that businesses must be proactive in focusing on their future workforce. “You have to find solutions to find good people for your organization, because it’s not up to anyone else,” he said. “We must help move more students from backpacks to briefcases – by talking to them about the real world, giving them the language they need to use in the professional world and giving them good career information to make up for the bad information they’re getting.”

For example, Lunger advised employers to frequently attend career fairs in order “to meet people, not just resumes.” He said that 90% of their time at a career fair is not recruiting, but is actually career coaching. “Hire based on the attributes of your best performers, not just on a GPA,” Lunger said. “You’re not hiring the person they are today, but the person they will be years from now.” He also urged more investment in people, because “they are the only resource in your business that appreciates in value over time.”

“I’m very grateful to have addressed local businesses and the academic team at VGCC,” Lunger reflected. “There is no doubt in my mind that these two entities can establish a win-win partnership, paving the road for students to effectively transition into the workplace.”

After Lunger’s presentation, a panel discussion focused on the topic of apprenticeships, with Kathryn Castelloes, director of ApprenticeshipNC at the N.C. Community College System, moderating. Panelists included Tony Marshall of Innovative Systems Group (ISG), Theresa Zook of Mars Petcare, Michael Kendrick of Newcomb & Company and Todd Wemyss of Glen Raven/Sunbrella.

“The reward is great”

Marshall said he has seen promising results from his company’s apprenticeship program, focused on cybersecurity. “Nationally, there are going to be about a million unfilled cybersecurity jobs next year,” Marshall noted. “It’s hard to find people with the right skills, so you should find people with the right attitude and then give them to the right skills through apprenticeship. The reward is great, both for the company and for the individual apprentice.”

Zook noted that her company works with the community college on apprenticeships. “VGCC has made it so easy for us,” she said.

“It’s very exciting to see the interest in Registered Apprenticeship and the employers that are coming forward to utilize the benefits that it brings,” Castelloes said. “We at ApprenticeshipNC are here to help employers find and train the workers that they need, so that they can grow as a company and the state can grow economically.”

Following the discussion, breakout sessions focused on sustainable training, more details on apprenticeships, and workforce development partnerships with public schools. College officials are seeking to foster greater collaboration among numerous partners to reduce duplication, leverage resources, and achieve significant workforce impact for the communities it serves.

“The summit was a great opportunity for business and industry to get together, network and find out about K-12 efforts, hiring, apprenticeships and training,” said Ken Wilson, the project manager for VGCC’s TechHire grant and coordinator of the summit. “In the next phases, we are looking for business and industry representatives willing to help steer the Business and Industry Connect initiative to address factors that impact the employee pipeline.”

For more information, contact Ken Wilson at or (252) 738-3259.

Ken Wilson at BIC Summit