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State launches effort to build workforce pipeline

Chuck Crumbo
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Tax credits. Quality of life. Location, location, location.

While those elements are important, a community’s workforce could be the crucial factor CEOs will take into account when making a decision on where to build their company’s next plant or open their next office.

“The critical thing for corporate users is labor force,” said Brian Reed, CBRE research manager in South Carolina. “We’re looking at a unique period in the next 20-25 years where labor force is going to be the driving decision-maker for corporate users.”

Cheryl Stanton

To meet employers’ needs, the state has launched efforts to build a workforce pipeline that aims to match workers with current and future jobs, said Cheryl Stanton, executive director of the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.

Although the state has a record number of people earning paychecks and participating in the workforce, there’s a disconnect between available jobs and people looking for work, Stanton said at a recent workforce symposium hosted by the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

“We have 120,000 looking for jobs and have almost 70,000 jobs unfilled, which tells us that there’s something we need to be doing differently,” she said.

To tackle the problem, the state plans to create a workforce pipeline through a program called Sector Strategies. Stanton said the program will take a regional approach aimed at building a pool of workforce talent through the collaboration of government, educators and industry.

“We have to change the culture of how we develop our workforce,” Stanton said. “We have the job seeker and job opening. How do we get them matched?”

The intent is to create a regional talent supply chain that matches up workers’ skills to present and future needs of employers, Stanton said. And to do that, the partners need to listen to employers about their job needs instead of offering training programs not necessarily tailored to fill current and future positions.

“We, in government, can’t tell you or should tell you what your talent supply chain should look like,” Stanton said. “We shouldn’t be training people for jobs and hoping those are the jobs you create.”

Free tuition

One key development in how South Carolina trains its workforce is a free tuition program launched at Central Carolina Technical College in Sumter.

Announced earlier this year, the initiative provides the first two years at Central Carolina tuition-free – the first of its kind in South Carolina. The program is an economic development tool for existing and new industries served by Central Carolina and offers higher education opportunities to public and private high school students in the college’s four-county service area: Clarendon, Kershaw, Lee and Sumter.

The program pilot was introduced in 2011 and culminated in 2015, the college said. Enrollment doubled and the initiative, backed by a number of corporate sponsors in the region, proved to be successful, officials said.

“Our region of South Carolina is committed to joining the nationwide trend to provide tuition-free higher education options for local high school students, and a trained and ready workforce for economic development in our four-county service area,” said Central Carolina president Tim Hardee.

Students eligible for the scholarship must be in the graduating class of 2016, 2017, 2018, or 2019 from a high school in the four-county area, have a 2.0 GPA, test into college-level work, begin taking classes in the summer or fall semester following graduation from high school, and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Central Carolina developed the initiative after talking to businesses about workforce needs and determining available funding, Stanton said. Businesses participating in the program pledged to help with tuition expenses for four years. Other funding comes from scholarships and grants.

Data drives training

DEW’s Sector Strategies program is aimed at addressing workers’ skill shortages and creating a career pathway for people to enter into specific industries.

Expected to be launched in mid-April, the program will be data-driven and supplemented by feedback from employers.

Also, there must be a shared vision in each region guided by industry, Stanton said. Training and educational programs must be aligned to meet industry needs. In addition, the state has been divided into four regions – Upstate, Lowcountry, Midlands and Pee Dee.

The plan identifies five critical industries: diversified manufacturing, including metal and metal fabrication, textiles, lumber and wood products and chemicals, rubber and plastics; business information technology services; health care; transportation, logistics and wholesale trade; and construction.

The initiative will use data-driven planning, benefitting all South Carolina businesses, Stanton said.

“By matching individuals’ strengths and life stage with the demands of South Carolina’s industries, businesses can continue to find the employees they need in order to grow and compete,” Stanton added in a blog posted on the SCDEW website.

Published in March 28, 2016, print issue. 

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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