Faced with a rising tide of retiring baby boomers, manufacturers in Spartanburg, Cherokee and Union counties are in need of certain skills that aren't necessarily in sync with those the workforce here thinks are important, according to research that will be released today by Spartanburg Community College and the Duke Energy Foundation.
More than 50 percent of the workforce believes computer skills are the most important to employers, while only 16 percent said industrial and machine operations were, according to the report. But employers gave the opposite response, citing machine, mechanical and electrical skills, among others specific to the manufacturing sector, as their most desired skill sets.
“Right now, people still perceive manufacturing as very dirty, hard work. And it's really moving toward a very clean environment that still requires hard work, but more mental ability as well — reasoning skills, critical thinking skills, solving problems, working inside a team environment, communication, reading, writing,” said Henry Giles, Spartanburg Community College president.
“Anybody who is working in manufacturing is going to have to work with a computer, but they're going to have to understand what their role is, and they're going to have to participate in a team. And yes, they may be looking at numbers in a computer, but they're going to have to understand the relationships of those numbers to the quality of the product they're producing.”
Giles will announce the findings at a series of news conferences today and talk about what steps the community college will take in response to that data.
Survey of work skills
Researchers contacted 188 businesses in Spartanburg, Cherokee and Union counties — primarily manufacturing — and surveyed 500 people who are either employed or looking for work.
Aside from the emphasis on traditional technical skills, the companies also noted a difficulty in finding workers with personal characteristics such as honesty, dependability and a strong work ethic.
The disconnect between the perception and reality makes it difficult for businesses to find the workers they need, and it causes job seekers to lose confidence in the market, the report states.
All of this is set against the backdrop of what has sometimes been called the Silver Tsunami — employers reported that about 23 percent of their employees are expected to retire over the next decade, while 42 percent of people with jobs surveyed were between ages 50 and 65.
“There will be implications for what businesses and industry may need to be doing,” Giles said. “When you look at the numbers, a business is really going to have to look at their existing workforce, and they're going to have to look for ways to keep it.”
The study does not identify which companies were surveyed, though people were asked whether they had favorable or unfavorable opinions of BMW, Michelin, Timken, Duke Power and Piedmont Natural Gas.
The purpose of the study was to quantify the problem in a way that businesses, employees and job seekers could understand, Giles said. If existing businesses can't maintain their workforce here, then they might go somewhere else, he said.
“It points to some issues that we as a community need to deal with,” Giles said. “And, obviously, we feel like Spartanburg Community College should be playing a vital role in addressing those issues.”
View article as it appears in GoUpstate.com.