School guidance counselors tour Volvo plant for new view of factory jobs

December 19, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Volvo Group Trucks Operations Vice President Wade Watson, left, gives Washington County Public Schools guidance counselors and administrators a tour of the engine and transmission factory on Wednesday to show what types of jobs are available to future graduates.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Smelly, dirty, greasy, men, noise.

These are descriptions a few of the Washington County Public Schools guidance counselors gave when Volvo Group Trucks Operations Vice President Wade Watson asked what they think of when they hear “diesel engines.”

Approximately 70 guidance counselors, from elementary to high schools, listened to Watson talk about changing perceptions of manufacturing, including job opportunities and workplaces.

“We’ve really modernized the way of working, (we) have created a much better environment for the employees, better lit, better ergonomics, a lot of automation and a more team-based environment where everybody can contribute and ... make our processes better and feel valued and recognized as employees,” Watson said.

The local Volvo operation has some growth opportunities and an aging workforce that, as it retires, needs to be replaced with talented young people, Watson said.

Watson and other Volvo officials led groups of guidance counselors on tours of the Volvo plant north of Hagerstown.

The tour included seeing several parts of the manufacturing process, including robotics, as well as walking through office space, checking out an indoor courtyard where employees can relax, and hearing from one of the employee trainers.

After the tour, guidance counselors had a chance to hear from a dozen Volvo employees, including local school system graduates, and ask questions.

They asked Watson what the entry-level pay was — $13 to $26 an hour — and from which colleges the company recruits.

The company hired 79 summer interns from a variety of colleges to work at the local plant last summer, Watson said. The Volvo operation regularly sets up job fair booths at the University of Maryland campuses, Penn State University, West Virginia University, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University, he said.

One counselor asked Watson how competitive it was to get a job at Volvo, having heard it was difficult, yet easier if a family member worked there.

Watson said nepotism was the old way, a thing of the past.

“Our ambition going forward is to find top talent,” he said.

David “Doc” Holliday, a counselor at Hancock Middle, said he was surprised by the Christmas decorations in the plant and the staff displays that provided a “family atmosphere.”

“They really take care of their employees,” Smithsburg Middle counselor Barbara Gift said.

James Funkhouser, a counselor at Emma K. Doub and Sharpsburg elementary schools, said the teamwork skills and innovation he saw at Volvo aligned with what was being taught in schools.

School Superintendent Clayton Wilcox told counselors he hoped their time at the Volvo plant would “open your eyes and broaden your toolkit a bit. So that when a young person comes to you and says, ‘You know, I’m not sure what I want to do in life,’ you have something beyond simply saying, ‘Well, go to college.’”

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