More than 800 new jobs will come to Woodford County over the next three years, and elected officials and employers hope local young people will fill some of those positions.
So Tuesday, about 130 Woodford County High School seniors toured manufacturing plants in Versailles to see the job opportunities that will be available.
It was part of the first Industry Day organized by local companies and John Soper, chairman of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority.
“Thirty percent of our graduating seniors don’t go to postsecondary education,” Soper said. Yet local manufacturers have engineering, production and maintenance jobs that pay $60,000 to $80,000 a year or more, but that require technical training.
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“Not anybody can just walk in and do the jobs any more,” said Sam Polk, human resources manager for NSG-Pilkington in Versailles, which makes glass for vehicles. “It’s very technology-driven. Operators have a skill set.”
Polk said a small percentage of NSG-Pilkington’s employees come from Woodford County. “Most of our work force comes from Mercer County, Bourbon County, Anderson County,” Polk said.
Industry Day lets Woodford youths see that there are job opportunities in their backyard.
Soper got the idea for Industry Day from Dick Webb, executive director of the Harrodsburg-Mercer County Industrial Development Authority. Webb, a former superintendent for the Burgin Independent Schools, started an Industry Day program in Harrodsburg.
Webb realized there was a “disconnect” between schools and local industries.
“High school kids did not understand what was available here for them to do,” Webb said. “The point is to develop a work force that will live here and pay taxes here, but they can’t do that if they don’t know what exists.”
Among the companies that Woodford students visited were Ledvance (formerly Osram Sylvania), Yokohama Industries America, NSG-Pilkington, Ruggles Sign and Quad/Graphics. More Than A Bakery, a cookie-cracker company that is building a plant that hasn’t opened yet, sponsored a lunch for the students at Versailles Baptist Church. There the students could play games like a football toss and a basketball-shooting contest.
Bill Quigg, president of More Than A Bakery, said the company will begin accepting applications for 80 jobs in June. Eventually the company plans to hire more than 300 people.
At the NSG-Pilkington plant, Marisol Morales, 18, was invited to jump on a piece of sunroof glass placed on a conference room floor.
“It was scary because I thought it was going to break, but it didn’t,” Morales said. “It was tougher than I imagined.”
Morales said she would be interested in working for NSG, but she plans to go to Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington.
Luke Manning, 17, said he found the Industry Day to be informative.
“I never really knew what kind of industries were available here in Woodford County,” Manning said. “I never got to explore any job opportunities in Versailles because I never really thought there were a lot of job opportunities available here.”