SCC President Henry Giles
Everyone who’s seen “Terminator” remembers the movie’s famous last line: “There’s a storm coming.” I can think of no better way to describe the forecast for technical education, especially in the Upstate, where manufacturing is still an essential part of the economy.
I base that ominous prediction on the results of a comprehensive study Spartanburg Community College recently commissioned on the job market in Spartanburg, Cherokee and Union counties. The analysis was made possible with generous funding from Duke Energy Foundation. Our purpose was to determine how well equipped educational institutions are to supply Upstate employers with the skilled workforce they will need in the years ahead. To put it mildly, the results are alarming.
The study was divided into two parts. First, we conducted a random survey of 500 adults ages 18 to 65 in the three-county area who are either employed or seeking employment. Next, we contacted 188 major businesses and conducted in-depth interviews with 20 percent of the leading employers who are responsible for hiring people to fill thousands of jobs. We wanted to find out the most important skills they need and when they expected their current workers to retire.
The results cry out for immediate attention. For example, we learned that 42 percent of the workforce is 50 or older, and based on employment data from the S.C. Department of Commerce, we can expect over 40,000 of them to retire within 10 years.
Providing new workers to fill jobs vacated by retiring baby boomers is only part of the problem. Population growth will produce even more young men and women who need marketable skills.
The survey results sounded a clear warning: There is a coming tsunami of retirees over the next 10-15 years,and they are taking their skills sets with them. Our college will be called on to provide graduates with specialized training in numbers that our present resources simply cannot sustain.
Equally daunting, there is a major clash between perception and reality over the skills that are needed.
More than 50 percent of those seeking jobs believe computer skills are most important; only 16 percent cited industrial or mechanical skills as most desired.
For employers, however, the numbers were reversed. An overwhelming majority want machine, mechanical and industrial skills for the jobs they project in the future.
They also seek such soft skills as integrity, honesty and a strong work ethic — character qualities many employers regard as in short supply today.
This clash highlights how different the Upstate is from the rest of the state; here, manufacturing is still king.
Statewide, only 10 percent of the workforce is engaged in manufacturing; in the three-county area, 45 percent are engaged in manufacturing and construction — jobs that require technical, mechanical and industrial skills.
The studies show that the Upstate is on the cusp of changes that will radically alter the job market, and we simply do not have the capacity to respond to the massive challenges ahead.
They point to the pressing need to educate our community on the skills employers are actually seeking, to expand course offerings appropriately, to improve the facilities and to increase the number of full-time instructors in order to dramatically increase the number of graduates that the changing job market will demand.
There is indeed a storm coming. And it’s time for us to get ready for it. If we fail, the Upstate economy will pay the price.