With manufacturers and other businesses clamoring for skilled applicants, South Carolina’s top matchmaker for employers and job seekers laid it on the line: “Last month we had over 66,000 open jobs in this state … We have 148,000 unemployed. That suggests we have a problem.”
Cheryl Stanton, director of S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce, joined with education leaders in a Creating a Skilled Workforce discussion at the 2015 S.C. Manufacturing Conference and Expo.
Stanton told hundreds of manufacturing executives that the strategy to match workers with the needed skill sets to job vacancies starts with better communication.
“We need to start talking to one another,” Stanton said. “By us I mean education. I mean our technical colleges. I mean our government, but more important, I mean you all. You need to tell us what certificates you need, what training you need. And I’m not just talking about technical training. I am talking about job skills.” Stanton said workers must also know to show up to work on time, be dressed appropriately and “want to work.”
The skills gap coincides with the state labor force growing again for the 64th straight month to 2.25 million people in March, the most ever, with 7,536 more than February.
Stanton said Gov. Nikki Haley’s proposed budget includes $15 million for Succeed South Carolina, a grant-based training program designed to provide training for smaller businesses and to help workers advance from low-wage jobs. She encouraged the hundreds of manufacturing executives in the audience to contact their legislators, adding that the proposed job training program would complement the state technical college system’s Ready SC.
“We have employees who are at the point they don’t see that next step. They don’t see that upward mobility,” Stanton said.
Tennessee and Texas have begun such programs.
S.C. Technical College System President Jimmy Williamson said the colleges must cooperate with K-12 “in a much more dynamic and robust way,” specifically about career and technology education. The system includes 16 technical colleges and the ReadySC and Apprenticeship Carolina programs.
Williamson said having 1,300 students at the manufacturing conference to show how it has changed “is a good first step.” Williamson said apprenticeships are also increasing as a way to match prospective employees with skills training.
Spartanburg Community College President Henry Giles said the average age of students attending the college is “26, not 18. And they are individuals who have left high school and worked a while in their jobs. A number of them come back with company support, financial support. And others are coming back on their own because they realize they need to have additional credentials to be able to have a true living wage.”
Greenville Tech President Keith Miller said “We can have all the initiatives in the world. I feel strongly if we do nothing more than more of the same thing we are not going to do solve anything ... The skills gap and the challenge that we have isn’t a problem to be solved by higher education or secondary education or business and industry. It’s all of our problems.”
State school superintendent Molly Spearman said teaching is changing and “there are great things going on” in public schools. She said manufacturing has a negative image to overcome. She said a survey of almost 300,000 eighth- to 12th-graders showed the top three career ambitions are health services, arts and communication and STEM.
“The bottom three were manufacturing, finance and marketing,” Spearman said. “Maybe we need to come up with a sexier title. So we’ve got to all work together to let students know and let parents know that this is really a good option.”
The conference included a manufacturing career fair that attracted 1,300 students.
“We’ve got to replicate this all over the state,” Spearman said. “We are doing things we have never done before. I think it will help.”
Spearman said a human resources executive at Boeing told a group of educators not to worry so much about “all the content knowledge. Send us a student who knows how to show up to work on time, who knows how to work together — collaborate — and put their content knowledge to use.”
“So from you we learn that we’ve got to do a better job in K-12,” Spearman said. “I believe there is a revolution going on in classrooms across the state. Teachers have started it. District leaders have started it, and we are sort of copying our friends in career technology, who have been doing it for a long time. We have learned that learning has to be fun. The students have to be engaged and that should go on in every classroom whether it is English language arts, whether it is a music classroom, whether it is algebra … We are trying very hard to change the style of teaching in all our classrooms so that it prepares a ready graduate.”
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