Woodrow Wilson Rehab Center Hosts Forklift Rodeo

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A "forklift rodeo" may sound like another offbeat spectator sport, but there's a serious mission behind Wednesday's event at Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center (WWRC) in Fishersville. It's all about showcasing job skills.

Woodrow Wilson welcomes people from all over Virginia overcoming a disability caused by accident or illness. The center's mission is to  help them build independence. Rehabilitation and adaptive technology help three-quarters of their clients return to the workforce.

Running an industrial forklift for hours on end sounds like the dream job for Nick Allen.

"I wanted to stay out here and practice the whole entire day, nonstop. I really enjoy driving forklifts," said Allen.

Allen is among six competitors at the Wilson Rehab Center's Forklift Rodeo.

The orange and lemon teams put their skills to the test in a relay race. They move pallets of product, maneuver around cones and even drive backward to simulate a day in the workplace.

"We work with business and industry to find out what they need to see on the job, and we bring that to the classroom. So we're teaching exactly what they need in order to go out and get an entry-level job as a forklift operator," said Rick Sizemore, WWRC director.  

The forklift program gives the students nine weeks of training, so they are ready to be certified as soon as they graduate. For Thurston Hickman of Front Royal, that's just a few weeks away.

"When I go home sometime in May, I'm going to get a job. That's what I'm hoping for. My main goal is getting a job and supporting myself," said Hickman.

WWRC had just one forklift - and a waiting list for clients wanting to train with it, so Dominion Virginia Power donated a second one and believes that could make a statewide impact.

"In training them on the skills and getting them OSHA-certified, then they're ready to go be employed and get a skill. Then if they go back home anywhere in the commonwealth of Virginia, they have something on their resume to be permanently employed," said Dominion Virginia Power representative Emmett Toms.

Toms also serves on the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. He tells us forklift drivers are always in demand, partly because of the sheer number of distribution centers in the Shenandoah Valley and central Virginia.