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Building an Educational Pipeline to Create a Skilled Workforce

May 31, 2016

As the United States manufacturing sector grows, labor shortage and future demand for high-skilled workers are a critical issue Workforce-Pipeline-Panel-web_0.jpgnationwide that is also on the radar for South Carolina business and government leaders. 
 

That was the focus of the “Filling the Educational Pipeline to Create a Skilled Workforce” panel discussion during the recent 2016 South Carolina Manufacturing Conference & Expo. 
 

According to panelist Lewis Gossett, President and CEO of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance, the critical element is altering the perception of manufacturing. 
 

“If you look at the evolution of South Carolina’s workforce, we came from the fields into the factories, and then we didn’t want our kids to go back to the fields,” Gossett said. “And then we went from the factories to graduate schools, professional schools and white collar jobs, and we didn’t want our kids to go back to the factories—well now, the factories are the place where it’s happening … they’re clean, they’re challenging, they’ll provide a wage that is dramatically higher than any other you’ll find. The average wage in South Carolina is $37,000; the average wage in manufacturing is $54,000.”
 

Educating the educators

Panelists agreed the solution is for state agencies and industries to raise awareness among parents and educators that academic futures may not be suited for everyone. 
 

“There are a lot of people who don’t know what manufacturing looks like because they’ve never been there,” added panelist Cheryl Stanton, Executive Director of the SC Department of Employment & Workforce. “One of the best things we’re seeing happening is pockets of employers going to their local school districts, going to their local principals and guidance counselors and inviting them in and showing them that this is high-tech, very safe and interesting work.”
 

Dr. Jimmie Williamson, then President of the SC Technical College System, said Orangeburg Calhoun Technical College spearheaded a pilot program where school guidance counselors spent two weeks learning about area manufacturers, touring production plants, and seeing how the technical college curriculum supports those positions. Counselors were encouraged to speak with students who had not made post-secondary commitments about manufacturing careers. 
 

“Enrollment increased 10 percent at Orangeburg Calhoun within one year in the STEM-related curriculum,” Williamson added. That program is now being replicated across the state, and participating counselors will receive continuing education credit for completion. 
 

Upstate manufacturers seize opportunity

In the Upstate, industries are heeding the call to raise awareness for manufacturing careers. 
 

An integral part of the SC Technical College System, Apprenticeship Carolina™ has worked with nearly 200 companies across Upstate South Carolina to register demand driven apprenticeship programs in hundreds of occupations with the US Department of Labor. Although the majority of Upstate SC apprenticeship programs have been registered in the manufacturing sector, other industries including health care, transportation, distribution, energy, utilities and construction trades have benefited from this critical “earn while you learn model,” according to Carla Whitlock, Senior Apprenticeship Consultant – Apprenticeship Carolina.   
 

The fastest growing segment of apprenticeship has been the inclusion of youth apprenticeships as a standard for creating a workforce pipeline by incorporating high school juniors and seniors into the workforce, Whitlock added. These students not only graduate from high school with a diploma, they may also receive credit toward their associate’s degree at a technical college, certifications through education and a nationally recognized credential from the Department of Labor.
 

Outreach has proven a successful model for Manufacturers Caring for Pickens County (MCPC), a consortium of nine advanced manufacturers who included educators at inception, according to Tom O’Hanlan, chairman of the group and Founder & CEO of Sealevel Systems, Inc. 
 

“Better education improves economic development, and economic development improves quality of life – these elements are all interconnected,” O’Hanlan said. 
 

The Pickens County Career and Technology Center in Liberty was cited as a “school that works” in a New York Times article: “The center has an informal partnership with a group of local industry leaders, known as Manufacturers Caring for Pickens County. They help the guidance counselors understand exactly what each business needs, in order to better advise their students. Local companies like Cornell Dubilier and BMW have also helped the school by donating scrap steel, or old robots that they have phased out.”
 

Manufacturers Caring for Pickens County frequently provides industry tours to guidance counselors, educators and K-12 students. They’re also working with Tri-County Technical College on certificate and apprenticeship programs that prepare high school students to step into skilled manufacturing roles upon graduation. 
 

MCPC industry employees also partner with STEM clubs, teach computer engineering and software classes at Daniel High School, and have donated 3-D printers to Gettys Middle School and the Pickens County Career and Technology Center. 
 

Jonathan Scrivner teaches the Project Lead the Way Program to 480 students across all grades at Gettys Middle School, and curriculum includes engineering, design, robotics, modeling and CAD work utilizing two donated 3-D printers. 
 

“We’ve gone from having them protoype their work and some pretty simple things to designing and printing a mouthpiece for the trumpet for our band program, reeds for clarinets and trinkets for their moms for Mother’s Day,” Scrivner said about the printers. “It’s something they can apply to their personal interests and wants and not just accomplishing another classroom task—they don’t have access to this technology at home or anywhere else.”
 

In addition to providing materials, the MCPC partnership has also elevated the authenticity of engineering experiences for students. And as students share their work with friends, Scrivner said interest in the programs as associated industrial careers has grown. 
 

Linking students and employers online

Another conduit between students and manufacturers is STEM Premier, a Charleston-based online platform that “assists students in designing a career pathway, educators in recruiting top talent to their schools, and employers in developing a stable, continuous talent pipeline.”
 

“This is LinkedIn on steroids—this is where kids get to create their own brand for free, and then my members, colleges and technical colleges can find them and start to communicate directly with them,” Gossett said during the panel discussion. 
 

Gossett shared an anecdote about STEM Premier connecting multiple employers to a statewide welding champion whose GPA would have him overlooked by the academic community. 
 

“That kid will make $60,000 a year long before his friends graduate with a ‘whatever studies’ degree from a four-year school,” Gossett said. 
 

This year in South Carolina, all high school graduates will also have a WorkKeys score that assesses their performance on applied mathematics, locating information, and reading for information, Gossett said.
 

The state also has adopted new metrics for gauging success among graduates, such as placement in careers as an alternative to colleges. 
 

In March, the South Carolina Department of Education also announced receipt of a $100,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase to perform a diagnostic assessment of its career preparation system and prepare for implementation of a new action plan. 
 

Additionally, the Department of Education & Workforce is conducting a statewide inventory of employment opportunities to identify priority industries by region and ensure resources are appropriately aligned to assist individuals with career preparation and placement, Stanton said. 

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Palmetto State manufacturing, economic development, workforce development and human resources, construction, engineering, banking and legal sector representatives convened April 20-21 in Greenville for the 2016 South Carolina Manufacturing Conference and Expo presented by SC Biz News. Presentations focused on workforce, infrastructure, the emergence of new technology and globalization, successes of the automotive and aerospace industry, and intellectual protections for manufacturing. In a series of blogs, we’ll recap the ideas exchanged during the conference. 

TOPICS: Colleges & Universities, News You Can Use, Upstate Thoughts