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Bosch executive says talent critical for manufacturer’s plans to double growth

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By Andy Owens
Published Oct. 21, 2015

Connecting with students and families is key to fueling the growing manufacturing economy across South Carolina, according to a Robert Bosch LLC executive.

Charlie Ackerman, senior vice president of human resources in North America for Bosch, said the company has 290,000 employees worldwide and posts more than $63 billion in sales annually, but he said the company needs a pipeline of skilled labor to double that number.

Ackerman was the keynote speaker during the Lowcountry Manufacturers Council’s annual meeting Tuesday night at Trident Technical College.

Ackerman said the company has $11.7 billion in U.S. sales — the majority in automotive products — and hopes to hit $20 billion in 2020 through organic growth, acquisitions and innovation.

“We have to have the talent in order for us to achieve that,” Ackerman said.

Before his talk, First Robotics Team 342, The Burning Magnetos, and First Robotics Team 3489, Category 5, which receive support, sponsorship and mentorship from Bosch in North Charleston, demonstrated what they’re learning and how they’re applying those skills to solving problems. Students maneuvered competitive robots around the front of the room, where they picked up, carried and stacked plastic containers the size of trash cans.

Ackerman said one of the college students he’s mentoring came to Bosch as an intern in high school as part of a First Robotics team. He urged manufacturers in attendance to find someone like that to mentor and show him or her the opportunities in manufacturing.

“We’re trying to put a strong focus on connecting with students,” Ackerman said.

Lewis Gossett, president and CEO of the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance, said manufacturing jobs are flowing into South Carolina. Manufacturing jobs pay an average of $55,000 a year, 49% more than other jobs in S.C.

“We are filling up our communities with factories all over South Carolina, and we’ve got to get people in those things, and we want them to be South Carolinians,” Gossett said.

He said that counselors who want to educate teachers and students on manufacturing careers often get pushback from family members who see a four-year college degree as the only path.

“The problem is getting the parents and kids to understand that manufacturing jobs are good,” Gossett said.

Ackerman said Bosch is among the companies in South Carolina depending on a pipeline of smart, dedicated, educated and skilled talent to push the company, which files an average of 18 patents a day across the globe.

He said the data Bosch follows show that growth in skilled trades is 5% above the national average in South Carolina, but there’s also 3.3% unemployment in that sector.

Demand for mechanical engineering is 36% above the national average in the state, but there’s a 1.1% unemployment rate in that field.

The largest disparity is in software engineers, Ackerman said, with demand in South Carolina being 57% below the national average — though nearly every software engineer in the state is employed, with an unemployment rate of 0.4%.

He said software engineers are critical to companies such as Bosch because they’re helping develop the infrastructure to handle the data flow that drives hardware-based technology and client and consumer input.

“It’s not what you have here today,” Ackerman said. “It’s what you have in the future.”

Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.

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