A model for the Commonwealth

By Ben J. Davenport Jr., Vice Chairman, GO Virginia (Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board)

The second in the series of four “Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce” op-ed pieces

July 31, 2018 – In 1941, my father, Ben J. Davenport Sr., founded Davenport Energy, a small oil jobbership.  Upon graduating Hargrave Military Academy and Virginia Tech in 1964, I returned to Chatham to work for my father’s company and helped grow it into a multifaceted company providing quality petroleum products to more than 21,000 customers throughout southside Virginia and North Carolina.

As chairman of the firm today, I am constantly reminded of the importance of receiving a good education and having a career.  I believe an individual’s path to a successful career has many parts and starts long before they graduate from school.  In fact, if we want to prepare our youth for work, then we have to start early and help them along the way.

Because of this belief I have served in many capacities to assist in driving efforts to revitalize our commonwealth’s economy, including sitting on the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation Board, where efforts are underway to ensure more children in Virginia enter kindergarten adequately prepared for school and ready to learn.

Recently, we were excited to approve a new partnership between GO Virginia and the United Way of Southwest Virginia. We think this could serve as the catalyst for a lifelong learning initiative and entice young people to want to be a part of our future economy.

United Way of Southwest Virginia has created a program called Ignite, a cradle to career initiative, which is bridging the gap between the worlds of learning and work by connecting schools and students with employers and employees.

Already, in the second year of implementation, Ignite has reached more than 29,000 students and received high honors for preparing youth for the new Virginia Economy. Ignite is sparking career interest in the next generation of Southwest Virginia’s workforce through two simple strategies: career awareness and skill development.

In April GO Virginia awarded United Way a grant to assist with developing an internship component of the program, where high school students’ learning will be now be connected to on-the-job experience.  Through these new efforts United Way will be creating a plan for credential alignment, ensuring that education and training programs in high school match employer needs.

Research tells us, youth who participate in work-based learning are more likely to do better in school, attend college or join the workforce than those who do not.  As an employer, an owner of a regional waste-management company and a regional energy company, I, too, see the gaps between workforce readiness and educational preparedness.

As GO Virginia supports the United Way of Southwest Virginia on building the internship components of Ignite, I encourage our Commonwealth’s employers be a part of this solution and learn more about providing working opportunities for youth at an earlier age.

In Virginia and the U.S., employer requirements are continually changing and upgrading to new skill requirements.  As these challenges become more difficult in a 21st century economy, we will need more collaborative community-wide solutions such as United Way’s.

As employers it’s essential we work together with our educational institutions from middle and high schools to colleges supporting educational goals.  We should openly communicate and coordinate our efforts at every stage ensuring we are doing our part in building a robust and competitive economy and preparing the next generation for the jobs of tomorrow.

Read the other OTW articles
Learn about the Ignite Program

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 nearly 20% of the state of Virginia, United Way of Southwest Virginia programs and initiatives serve the counties of Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Montgomery, Pulaski, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise, and Wythe, and the cities of Bristol, Galax, Norton, and Radford.