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Panel addresses ways to improve education-to-work pipeline

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Lexington-Richland District 5 Superintendent Stephen Hefner (left) said students need to be reminded that they are not just learning for its own sake, but to achieve a means to an end. Hefner was speaking during this morning's Power Breakfast panel on workforce development at the Columbia Marriott. Seated to his right are Randy Crutfield of Michelin, Midlands Tech President Ronald Rhames, and Seibels' Helmut Tissler. (Photos/Chuck Crumbo)

A panel of education and business leaders discussed how to best match qualified candidates with jobs during today’s 2016 Power Breakfast Series forum, hosted by the Columbia Regional Business Report at the Columbia Marriott.

The conversation focused on the need for workers trained in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — fields, but also on the necessity for recent graduates-turned-job seekers to be able to effectively express themselves.

Midlands Technical College President Ronald Rhames (right) said at this morning's Power Breakfast panel on workforce development that students need to learn life skills as well as technical skills to success. Michelin's Randy Crutfield (left) also spoke on the panel. (Photo/Chuck Crumbo)“People need, in addition to the technical skills, to learn life skills, such as being able to communicate and being able to look people in the eye,” said Midlands Technical College President Ronald Rhames.

The four-person panel also discussed pathways to the workforce pipeline available to high school graduates other than traditional four-year degrees. Randy Crutfield, site hiring manager at Michelin North America’s Lexington site, said a three-year-old cooperative scholarship program with area schools helps Michelin identify the engineering technicians the company needs.

“Those individuals are actually the ones that keep the process running every day, so we have a tremendous need there, and put a lot of effort into trying to develop that talent from high school,” Crutfield said. “What we’re looking for is students with associate degrees, and there’s always been a stigma associated with that for some reason — even though those jobs, two years out of high school, are paying $50,000 a year.”

Robust salaries aren’t the only benefit to manufacturing sector jobs, as Rhames, whose college education began with an associate degree in management from Midlands Tech, pointed out.

“We can educate students at a much lower costs,” said Rhames, whose school recently received a $4 million federal grant to develop talent in the field of information technology. “The tuition is much lower, so therefore students have to borrow a lot less money, if any money at all. That’s worth repeating. You can leave us with little or no debt.”

Helmut Tissler, chief information officer at Seibels Insurance Technology & Services, said employers also have to be aware of those various educational avenues.

“There’s two-year programs, there’s certification programs, there’s the online schools. That’s becoming a very big part of the training environment,” Tissler said. “As people who do the hiring, we have to open our minds a little bit and not look at only people that come out of four-year colleges. There are a lot of different ways to get through life.”

For example, the Center for Advanced Technical Studies offers programs in 18 career areas to 1,100 students from Lexington-Richland School District 5, targeting talented students and funneling them toward employers who want to hire them.

Stephen Hefner, superintendent of District 5, said, “We’re really redefining the whole concept of work. … We need to teach (students) to be very intentional about the fact that they’re not just studying to be studying, that there’s some outcome at the end.”

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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