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Employers, educators, community combine to build work force of the future in Wilson

Posted August 1

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— The job picture in the Triangle area is pretty good. The May unemployment rate hovered around 4 percent.

But it's a different story in Wilson County, where the jobless rate is almost double that of Raleigh, at around 8 percent. According to job counselors, the problem is not the lack of jobs. Instead, it is finding the right people to match the skills that employers are seeking.

Wilson Chamber of Commerce Director Ryan Simons said the county unemployment rate may be higher than Raleigh's, but it is improving. A year ago, it was nearly 11 percent. Unemployment Rate graphic What's behind the North Carolina unemployment rate?

"Our economy has changed," Simons said. "We still have a strong agricultural base, but we're working to build a strong manufacturing and life-sciences base, as well."

Bridgestone Tires is the county's largest employer, with 2,200 jobs. It announced plans earlier this year to expand the plant. Pharmaceutical companies Merck and Purdue also have large operations in the city.

Nonprofits and Wilson businesses are working together to fill the skills gap. OIC of Wilson is one group that's helping people learn what they need to get a good job.

"We teach them soft skills, basic IT skills. We teach them proper interview etiquette and the skill set and motivation to go out and find these jobs," said OIC's Jesse Raudales.

The Wilson Academy of Applied Technology supplies another piece of the puzzle. It's a partnership between the school system, Wilson Community College and businesses. The goal is to get high school students ready for those high-skilled manufacturing jobs.

Simons says the employment picture will improve in Wilson because the community is working together.

"Everybody's bought in. We're doing some great things," he said.

Job seekers in the Triangle have a chance this week to meet with 80 employers looking to fill 3,000 open positions at the WRAL Capital Area Career Expo. The event is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday at the McKimmon Center at North Carolina State University.

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