South Carolina’s Technical Colleges: An Asset to Residents & Business AlikeApril 7, 2017
Though often an unsung hero of our business and education ecosystems, South Carolina’s Technical College System is a role model for our nation and has shaped both the people and the economy of our state since its creation 55 years ago.
As the post-war economy began to shift from an agrarian and textile focus, state leaders envisioned a workforce prepared for a variety of advanced careers. With the goal of having no South Carolinian more than 30 miles from a technical college, a passionate group of vocational education advocates mapped out the web of campuses we know today.
Everyone understands education is crucial for our citizens’ and our state’s success, but not every student needs a four-year degree. In fact, more than 65% of South Carolina’s jobs across all industries require technical training. As a resource for both new graduates and those already in the workforce, our state’s 16 technical colleges serve more than 250,000 students annually; this is more undergraduates than all other public South Carolina higher education institutions combined.
Our technical college system produces highly skilled workers, and does so in a way that is remarkably affordable for most South Carolinians. With a combination of federal Pell grants and state tuition assistance, many students complete their education at a minimal expense, and just miles from where they live and work.
A Win-Win for Business Recruitment
Businesses, too, get a great deal from our technical college system. Our internationally-recognized statewide programs, readySC and Apprenticeship Carolina, attract new companies to South Carolina and help them grow with an educated, fully developed workforce.
ReadySC partners motivated employers, engaged student-workers and a state focused on workforce development. Qualifying new and expanding businesses are on the receiving end of personalized, innovative workforce training solutions – all at no cost to them. South Carolina’s investment in these companies and their newly-hired workers pays off significantly for our economy at large, deepening corporate ties to our state and growing a highly trained generation of employees ready to succeed. This program is a strong labor force incentive for companies seeking new business locations. Often, their first question is about the quality and quantity of an area’s labor force. Minimizing start-up costs and training time for new companies is essential to landing new investment.
Apprenticeship Carolina, modeled after a time-tested German style of apprenticeship, combines classroom learning with on-the-job training to create capable employees for our state’s businesses. Another no-cost program for employers, Apprenticeship Carolina has collaborated with all 16 technical colleges to produce nearly 18,000 skilled employees since its creation, allowing apprentices to earn while they learn with on-the-job training, job-related education and scalable wage progression. Nearly 18,000 apprentices have completed the program, and 851 programs are registered today.
Recognizing Growth Potential
In addition to their focus on workforce development, the technical colleges themselves are seeking new ways to educate and position South Carolina to compete for business investment; the Upstate has seen the fruit of many of these efforts. In our area alone, Greenville Technical College’s Center for Manufacturing Innovation, Tri-County Technical College’s World Class Training Center, Piedmont Technical College’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Spartanburg Community College’s Center for Business and Entrepreneurial Development play a vital role in supporting regional industry and training highly employable Upstate workers.
As our business recruitment team sees increased need for collaborative workspace, incubator support and landing pads for international companies, many of the Upstate’s technical systems have also embraced these shifts with open arms: Spartanburg’s Community College’s Center for Business and Entrepreneurial Development provided a landing pad for Ritrama (an Italian chemical company investing $85 million in a North American headquarters and manufacturing facility, creating 150 jobs) and Toray (a Japanese-owned carbon fiber producer whose $1.4 billion investment in Moore will create 500 jobs) to begin their work while facilities were under construction.
The Greenville Technical College Center for Manufacturing Innovation, which opened its doors in August 2016, launched a business incubator that will provide office space and access to state-of-the-art industrial machinery and equipment. Its first tenants, Medical Beam Laboratories and Constructics LLC, were announced in early March.
In Oconee County, 1.1 million cubic yards of dirt is being moved to make way for the Center for Workforce Development, slated to open in 2018 in Oconee Industry & Technology Park.
“There’s nothing like it in the state of South Carolina,” said Richard Blackwell, Executive Director of the Oconee Economic Alliance.
The center includes a new Tri-County Technical College Center for Manufacturing Excellence and the Hamilton Career Center, a cooperative partnership between Tri-County Tech and the School District of Oconee County. The vocational training center will provide manufacturing-aligned curriculum beginning with juniors in high school.
“As a junior, you can start taking classes here, you can walk down the street, take college credit classes at Tri-County Tech,” Blackwell added. “And all of this is inside the industrial park, so as we talk about youth apprenticeships, co-ops, internships, there’s a perfect example in Baxter, which is sitting right there and wants to tap into this.”
South Carolina’s technical college system started in 1961 with a single goal: to transform our state’s destiny by bringing each participating South Carolinian to his or her full potential. Half a century later, as generations of those students bring their skills to bear in the workforce, it’s clear that the system’s aim has been exceeded many times over.
The South Carolina technical college system gives students access to education and a great potential; it gives businesses access to world-class workers with up-to-the-minute training. Without doubt, South Carolina reaps the benefits. The message to our state and to companies looking to expand here is clear: we’re prepared, trained and ready to succeed. Please join us.