Hidden careers in Southwest Virginia
Article 7/11 in the Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce written series by United Way of Southwest Virginia.
August 6, 2017 (Gate City, VA) – Imagine a fire, break-in, kidnapping, or other event where you dial 9-1-1. Who plays an important role in responding to your call? Firefighters, policemen, rescue squads? Yes, but there are other folks working in the hidden jobs – the unseen heroes in E911.
Who are these people, and what do they do? These careers are available in every county in Southwest Virginia and are good options for our future workers to consider. Let us introduce you to a few jobs you may not have known about before.
Five people are working away in the E911 building atop a hill in Gate City, VA.
In the first office on the right, an employee sits at her desk, uploading coordinates from a handheld device to her computer. Half of her time each week is spent driving through Scott County, walking to the corners of new or remodeled residential and commercial structures with her device, and taking photos of completed builds. The other half of her time is spent uploading and linking data to layers on a map used by emergency personnel, zoning, election districts, the county attorney, building inspectors, and more. She’s Scott County’s GIS specialist and her name is Doris Dougherty.
Dougherty’s job is one that many may think is automated or done by satellite, but she said, “Somebody has to physically go out and do this to maintain the mapping and keep it current. If it’s a new construction, once the footers are dug and the building inspector has passed it, I go out to the house. This device allows me to mark all the corners’ coordinates and when I go back to the office, it puts the rectangular shape of the house exactly in the spot where the house will be built. I will go back when the house is
complete in six months or a year and take the picture. I link that picture on the map, too, so it can be clicked on. Then, I can map the driveway out to the road. The shapes and symbols I add for each house go on a layer on top of the aerial photography. There are triangles to click on that show phone numbers that are assigned to each building, and that connection of address to phone number is what’s really helpful to the E911 dispatch.”
In the second office on the right, an employee sorts through filing cabinets to find a house number sign. His time each week is spent installing, repairing, replacing, and maintaining county road signs. He’s Scott County’s road maintenance technician and his name is Jack Troutman.
Troutman is a retired postmaster, which makes his current job a fitting follow-up career. He’s been living in Scott County for 37 years, and because of his previous profession, he’s very familiar with the “lay of the land”. His supervisor said Troutman is so detailed that he sprays weed killer at the base of every sign he maintains.
In the third office on the right, an employee picks up her phone to alert her coworker that new equipment has been ordered. Her time is spent writing grants, managing staff, purchasing, and maintaining the department budget. She’s Scott County’s E911 Director, Janice “Tutti” Jennings.
Her career started out in dispatch, then moved to home cleaning, back to dispatch, to correctional officer at the regional jail, and to E911. In her position, she answers to the county administrator.
Jennings said, “We operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Everything stays on up here. We work hard, but we have a good time.”
On the opposite side of the building, two employees sit at desks behind barricades of monitors. They’re the day shift for dispatch. They answer 9-1-1 and admin phone calls, but that’s not all. After they determine the nature of the call, they dispatch fire, rescue, or law enforcement to help as soon as possible, page departments to respond, and enter actions taken into the computer aided dispatch system. They enter warrants, missing reports, and stolen articles – making E911 a central place for a lot of information. They are Stephanie Gillenwater and Frank Glover, Scott County E911 dispatchers.
While Gillenwater came from a healthcare background two and a half years ago, Glover came from an engineering and manufacturing background fourteen years ago.
“When I first started in 2003, we didn’t have the technology we have now,” said Glover. “There were no 911 calls – they called a landline number and I’d answer. And a lot of the houses didn’t have street addresses, so we had to rely on callers giving directions using route numbers, landmarks, and other indicators. As you can imagine, it is not most helpful when a caller’s directions sound something like, ‘You know down here where that old barn burned down a couple of years ago? Well, you turn by there and you go down to the tree.’”
There are a total of eleven dispatchers currently working for Scott County, with one retiring, leaving a job opening in September for a dispatch position.
Gillenwater said, “Normally when dispatch has openings, there aren’t a lot of people who apply, even though it requires a minimum of a high school diploma. It’s a lot you have to know, and there are a lot of people to contact, but it’s a service and it is valuable.”
Without these jobs, there would be no emergency response as we know it today.
In September, United Way of Southwest Virginia is hosting a Careers Expo for Youth that will highlight jobs like these and many more. Over 4,000 7th graders will participate in hands-on activities from dozens of our region’s employers, and could be able to climb a utility pole, participate in a chemistry experiment, or use a 3-D printer to create a 3-D object. To get involved as a volunteer in this two-day event to inspire tomorrow’s future workforce, visit UnitedWaySWVA.org/expo.
Article 7/11. The written “Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce” series was created by United Way of Southwest Virginia. The introductory article was released in May 2017, with nine articles to be released online on the first and third Sundays from May-September, and published in various print publications across the region. Each of the nine articles will share the stories of local workers around topics that specifically affect Southwest Virginia such as local livable-wage jobs, local innovation, the value of working at an early age, the uniqueness of the community college system, and combining passion with skill. The last article will provide an overview of actions being taken by United Way of Southwest Virginia to bridge the gap between the worlds of learning and work to strengthen the workforce of tomorrow. To keep up with the full series of articles, or for more information about United Way of Southwest Virginia’s initiatives to equip tomorrow’s workforce, visit UnitedWaySWVA.org.
About United Way of Southwest Virginia
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 almost 15% of the state of Virginia, United Way of Southwest Virginia serves Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington and Wise, and the cities of Galax and Norton. For more information about United Way of Southwest Virginia, visit UnitedWaySWVA.org.