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S.C. faces challenge of turning Model T school system into a BMW

Education
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BB&T state president Mike Brenan, third from left, makes a point during this morning's Power Breakfast Series about the need to transform the state public school system to prepare students for tomorrow's jobs. Other members of the panel, hosted by the Columbia Regional Business Report, are from left, Tim Hardee, president of the S.C. Technical College System; Michelle Paczynski, a deputy director at the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce; and Brenda Hafner, principal of Blythewood High School. (Photo/Chuck Crumbo)One of the first things companies rave about when moving to South Carolina is the ready-made, skilled workforce that can quickly come in and do the job that is needed.

With jobs and skills continually being molded and shaped, it’s important for the state to continue to have skilled workers at the ready.

“Industries are not just looking for workers, but skilled workers,” said Tim Hardee, S.C. Technical College System president. “Skilled workforce attracts new industry, only if we have the workforce ready when they get here, we’re constantly trying to prepare our students for the next ‘big fish’ coming down the pipeline.”

Hardee joined Mike Brenan, state president of BB&T and co-chairman of TransformSC, Michelle Paczynski, deputy director of workforce innovation, strategies and programs at SCDEW, and Blythewood High School principal Brenda Hafner at this morning’s Columbia Regional Business Report’s Power Breakfast Series on building the state’s talent pipeline at the Doubletree in Columbia.

Paczynski said her agency is continually trying to engage companies to provide effective solutions in finding the right fit.

“It’s important for us to know what your needs are, because we know they are changing rapidly,” Paczynski said.

That rapid change has been a detriment in the eyes of Brenan who says the public education system must go through a transformation.

“Workforce development is not a new issue,” Brenan said. “We created the public school system at the turn of the 20th century to give students basic competency in order to fill the industrial production related jobs that were available in the economy.”

Brenan called today’s educational system a Model T, and instead of upgrading to a BMW 7 Series, lawmakers just tinker with a broken system.

“We need to transform education, not reform if we want a totally different system in South Carolina,” Brenan said. “The problem is, you can’t shut the one system down, you must to transform that Model T while it’s still running. There must be a transformation in order to meet the needs in the next 5 to 10 years.”

Blythewood High School principal Brenda Hafner said she's interviewing foreign applicants for some teaching jobs because there are no S.C. candidates. (Photo/Chuck Crumbo)Hafner said her biggest challenges are teacher recruitment and retention.

“It’s tough keeping teachers in a challenging and demanding system,” Hafner said. “Laws come down from legislators who have never been in a classroom, and don’t know the burdens and confines that teachers must put up with.”

Hafner said she is interviewing teachers from the Philippines, Guyana and Colombia in order to fill out her staff for next year due to the lack of interest in the state. “We need to lift teaching as a profession and transform the perception of the career of that profession.”

Brenan realized that businesses must have “skin in the game,” when it came to education. That led to TransformSC an education initiative of the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness. It is a collaboration of business leaders, educators, students, parents and policy makers transforming the public education system so that every student graduates prepared for careers, college and citizenship.

“Businesses consume what comes out of our education system,” Brenan said. “We developed the profile of what our S.C. graduate should look like. They should have world-class knowledge, but also world-class skills.”

Paczynski explained that not only are businesses looking for workers with not only the technical skills, but also soft skills such as communication, creativity and teamwork.

Hafner and Hardee are seeing more students take advantage of gaining specific skills at the high school level. Hardee said technical schools are providing K-12 programs that give students the chance to meet with local business and learn what it takes to make the move into the workforce.

Richland 2 has built the Richland Two Institute of Innovation (R2i2), which gives students the opportunity to take courses that are not offered at the five high schools in the district.

“It gives our students the opportunity to take classes that expand their knowledge of specific jobs, and learn a little more for the workforce,” Hafner said.

Reach Travis Boland at 803-726-7543.

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